Directors: Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker
Featuring: Dustin Poirier, Tim Credeur, Gil Guillory, Albert Stainback
Fans both of last autumn’s “Warrior” as well as underground docs like Paul Hough’s “The Backyard” will likely spark to “Fightville,” a knuckle-dusting portrait of aspirant mixed martial artists from co-directors Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker. Shrewdly observed and possessing of two top-notch subjects, “Fightville” features plenty of neck chops, grappling and other fighting action, but connects chiefly on a basic human level, charting the fundamental craving for acknowledgment, betterment and emotional connection of two young souls.
“Fightville” isn’t a look at the MMA from the top down, but rather from the grassroots up. Set in a busted, socio-economically depressed Louisiana burgh, the movie charts the progress of Albert Stainback and Dustin Poirier, two early twentysomethings training in a grungy gym owned by Tim Credeur. Progressing from sparring matches, they each start to make names for themselves in what amounts to the MMA’s minor league rodeo circuit, traveling between dusty mid-sized towns.
The filmmakers’ selection of subjects belies the notion of mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers, if such a stereotype still persists. Stainback in particular shares the story of his painful adolescence (before killing himself when Albert was nine, his alcoholic father regularly beat his mother, who later developed a crippling addiction of her own), but in a completely self-aware fashion that connects his traumatic past to the feelings of emotional settlement he gets from fighting. Poirier, too, talks of the eerie calm that descends upon him when entering the cage, and having its doors closed. Rich evidence of the existence of street smarts and life experience, the illuminating “Fightville” makes a persuasive case that professional fighters with their heads screwed on straight can in fact exist.
It’s a gritty thing, of course, but “Fightville” also bears much in common with nonfiction movies like “One Lucky Elephant” and “No Room For Rockstars,” which at least partially document marginalized subcultures (a traveling circus and the Vans Warped Tour, respectively). Viewers might come for the fisticuffs, but be pleasantly surprised at gaining a real window into its protagonists’ souls. It’s the equivalent of an unexpectedly delightful conversation with a potluck-seated dinner companion with whom you thought you might have nothing in common.
Written by: Brent Simon