Documentary aims to pack a punch
Luke G. Williams
Film-maker Bahareh Hosseini speaks to Boxing Monthly about her experiences tracing cruiserweight Richard Riakporhe and other boxers for her forthcoming documentary A Fighter’s Tale, which focuses on the real lives and stories of fighters that we rarely see ...
Ever since Enoch J. Rector’s landmark 1897 documentary The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight, which was not only the first ever boxing documentary but arguably the world’s first ever feature film - there has been a long and noble tradition of boxing documentaries, including such notable works as Leon Gast’s When We Were Kings, James Toback’s Tyson and Ron Berger’s Ring of Fire.
One thing that the vast majority of these documentaries have in common is that they are usually directed by men. Now though Iranian-born female director Bahareh Hosseini is throwing her hat into the ring with a candid and revealing documentary which features, among others, rising cruiserweight boxer Richard Riakporhe, who is interviewed in-depth in the latest print edition of Boxing Monthly.
Bahareh’s film traces the path to Richard’s first professional fight, which took place in August 2016, as well as delving into how the south London born pugilist has overcome a turbulent and troubled past.
Boxing Monthly recently sat down with Bahareh and Richard to discuss the project, a trailer for which can be viewed at the top of this page.
Bahareh admits that making the film has been both challenging and fascinating. “It’s been great to be a part of Richard’s journey to his first fight,” she enthuses. “It’s also been a journey for me as well. As you can imagine, most of the time when I’m filming in say, a gym in Brixton, I’m the only female there.
“Most of the time you see boxers interviewed it’s by men. For example, when I was in the changing room after Richard’s first fight, all the cameramen, reporters, photographers, were all men, I was literally the only female there.
“Boxing is therefore a very hyper-masculine, all-male environment. Getting access to that male world and telling the stories of really hard and masculine men has been a journey in itself. It comes with its own challenges and barriers but so far it’s been amazing.
“I’ve made amazing connections with my contributors, all based on trust. I think it’s a very interesting project because I’m giving a female point of view of a very masculine environment - I definitely believe I can bring something different to a male director.
"In this journey I’m exploring the real lives and stories of fighters we rarely see. When I finish this film I’d like to look more at the lives of boxers around the world, explore what makes this tribe tick and really highlight the struggle they go through not only in the ring but day to day."
The genesis of the project was born more than two years ago. “I first met Richard at his amateur club.” Bahareh explains. “At the time I was researching another documentary but I got talking to Richard about his background and I found his ambition to become a professional boxer and his passion for changing his life a very inspiring story.
“I also found him very charismatic, which is very important when you’re looking for contributors for documentary films. I asked him to model for me for a series of photographs. These photos took a fine art approach to boxing photography. I wanted to emphasise and explore the idea of masculinity in a boxer’s physique. I was inspired by the drama of a boxing match as well as classic paintings. The collaboration went really well, so I decided to capture Richard’s journey to his debut pro fight on film. I’ve been working on the project for more than a year now.”
During this time, the project has seen Bahareh take her cameras into a wide variety of locations and environments, including a south London boxing gym, York Hall in Bethnal Green and Richard’s former secondary school in Camberwell.
“I’ve tried my best to go into as many different places as I can,” she stresses. “I have captured as much as I can approaching his first fight. As a documentary film-maker I need to be as passionate and dedicated as a boxer. Richard and other boxers put a lot of work and hours into the gym and I need to be as dedicated as that too in order to capture their journey.”
For his part, Richard has relished the experience of being the subject of a film. “It’s been a very different experience for me,” he admits. “I used to just go to the gym, train and go home.
“Having a camera follow me has made me feel a bit like a superstar. You know - cameras, filming, interviews! In fact, we’ve filmed so many hours I can’t even count them! So it’s been a different kind of experience, but very fun at the same time. I’m also very lucky to have had such an opportunity given to me by Bahareh. Many well established boxers haven’t been lucky enough to have had such an experience.”
Bahareh’s passion for the project is certainly infectious and is particularly in evidence when I ask her to explain the philosophy behind the film. “I’m trying to tell the real human stories that you usually don’t hear about from fighters,” she argues. “A lot of boxing interviews or documentaries seem to focus on the skills or the fights, but I’m trying to capture the human dimension.
“This film also goes beyond boxing. It’s about issues to do with race, identity, fatherhood, street life etc. I am looking to examine the challenges and issues faced by young black men and other men from difficult backgrounds but from a female point of view. I also want to capture the passion, the dedication, the blood and the sweat of boxing.
“I see Richard and other boxers working so hard and I really admire that. The immense amount of work they put in ahead of a fight, the amount of psychological and physical work is beyond imagination. Capturing that on film as well is important. I’ve been working with fighters exploring different aspects of boxing, their struggles and passion for the sport and to change their lives. I do kick boxing myself so I feel like I really understand the environment, as well as the psychology behind a fighter’s mind, life and routine, as well as the extreme discipline.”
Bahareh’s own background as a film-maker makes a fascinating story in itself. Born in Tehran, Iran, she began her career as an actress in her native country, before moving into documentary film-making and photography. Since 2003 she has been based in the UK, although her work has seen her travel to countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as various locations across Africa.
“While I was acting I started to have an urge to tell my own stories,” she explains. “I found documentary film making to be a really effective tool for telling human stories so I started making documentaries. I’ve worked as a film-maker with a variety of production companies, broadcasters, news agencies and charities etc on my projects, which have appeared on many different platforms.”
“I’m still on a journey with the film,” Bahareh emphasises. “I’m looking for potential funders to help finish the film and for distributors and platforms to distribute the film on.”
One things seems certain - once the film is complete it seems sure to be an important and revealing addition to the rich history of boxing documentaries.
For more information about Bahareh Hosseini and A Fighter’s Tale visit http://www. baharehhosseini.com/
A full interview with Richard Riakporhe is in the latest issue of Boxing Monthly, accompanied by photography by Bahareh.