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Jill Morley Keeps Punching
by Bernie McCoy
November 22, 2013


(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 and 7.

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 basis.

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.

Bernie McCoy


Shadowbox Film Festival December 6/7
333 West 23 Street
New York City

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