(NOV 22) Jill Morley's sizable
stockpile of talents includes, among others, writer, film
director, producer, college athlete, amateur boxer and fighter.
And, no, the last two attributes are not redundant. Morley
advocates and brings to her chosen causes the same ferocity and
stick-to-it attitude that she carried to the New York Golden
Gloves ring. And those qualities were never more apparent than
in the fruition of her documentary film, "Fight Like A Girl,"
which, after winning the Best Director prize earlier this year
at the "Other Venice Film Festival" in California, will be shown
at the Shadowbox Film Festival in New York City on December 6
Almost three years ago (December
2010) I did a piece on Morley as she was putting the "finishing
touches" on her documentary film, then titled "Girl in the
Ring." There was a scheduled fundraiser being held a few days
later in Los Angeles to benefit the film and a local boxing
program, "Knockout for Girls." Morley, in that three year ago
interview, was quoted, on the subject of financial backing
needed for those "finishing touches;" "It's a costly and
detailed process, but the film should be ready for distribution
in approximately five months." When we spoke, recently, on the
phone from her home in Los Angeles, Morley mused about that long
ago quote, "What an underestimate that was."
While the film, at the time, was
"in the can," the hard work, bringing it to theater ready
quality was, in retrospect, almost just beginning. And the
biggest hurdle, not surprisingly, was a five letter word rhyming
with the by-product of bees. In reality, the money situation,
for most independent filmmakers ranges from desperate to despair
and, in Morley's words, "Everything is done, the content of
every film is ultimately determined, solely within the framework
of resources." The "five month" distribution target soon morphed
into a timetable of years rather than months. But Morley stayed
with it and saw her film through to completion by always moving
straight ahead towards the finish, as she had done on the tennis
court at Villanova and in the boxing ring, experiencing, along
the way, over those years, the same ups and downs commonplace
inside the ropes and at the net.
Fittingly, the theme of the film centers on four women who use
the sport of boxing to overcome far more serious hurdles in
their lives, abuse and racism prominent among them. When asked
to elaborate on the theme, Morley states, "It's a story of women
overcoming the obstacles that so many of them face in today's
society, only these four utilize the sport of boxing as a manner
of empowerment to help them overcome real life adversity."
The four women, all New Yorkers, include Susan Merlucci,
currently a professional boxer (at the time of the film, an
amateur) now competing under her married name, Susan Reno;
Kimberly Tomes, who continues to campaign as a professional
boxer and Maureen Shea, former interim WBC featherweight
titleholder. The fourth is Jill Morley. "I really would have
rather simply directed the film and stayed out of camera range,"
Morley relates, "but my personal experiences seemed to fit well
within the overall direction of the film."
The Shadowbox Film Festival is the only showcase that focuses
solely on films about the sport of boxing. While there has been
a recent upswing in documentary films about Women's boxing, the
quality of these efforts run the gamut from fable like portraits
of women in the ring, often created by filmmakers with meager
association and knowledge of the sport, to gritty, real life, up
close portrayals of just how difficult the sport of boxing is
and the added difficulties faced by the increasing number of
women who have come to the sport since the turn of the century.
The best of these films are done from "inside out," by those
familiar with the sport on an up close, personal, participatory
Morley's film belongs in the latter category. She knows the
"fight game," she knows the "wonderful stink of a boxing gym,"
(that great phrase from F.X. Toole), and most importantly,
Morley knows the struggles that women have encountered from
their figurative "opening bell" in the sport. And, best of all,
she knows it from the inside, imbued with a "been there, done
that" knowledge. Morley achieved the same type of first person
story arc in her critically acclaimed 2001 film, "Stripped,"
which was told from inside the New York City world of "adult
entertainment;" a film the New York Times called "a bumpy ride,
but one worth taking." Jill Morley knows from bumpy rides, most
recently while getting "Fight Like A Girl" to the final bell.
Yeah, she's a boxer and a fighter and she knows, as well as
anyone, how to keep punching.
Shadowbox Film Festival December 6/7
333 West 23 Street
New York City