An intense, immersive watch that really puts you in the headspace of its protagonist, Bugsy Steel’s Film London short Fighter follows a teenage boxer with Down’s Syndrome as he prepares for his first fight. We’ve featured boxing films on Short of the Week many times before, but Steel’s 7-minute film really stands-out for the sensitive, powerful portrayal of its central character and the discussions that arise because of this.
“Guy Bolton (the writer) and I wanted to make a film that not only showed a person with Down’s syndrome in a different role, but a role that was powerful, heroic and strong”, director Steel reveals in conversation with Marbelle on Directors Notes. “There has been a lot of talk in the media about the inclusion of disability in film but rarely in a way that doesn’t show them as a victim and so I hope we have shown a different and more original angle to Down’s syndrome through our simple and small film”.
A boxing film where the real battle takes place outside the ring, Fighter is a strong character piece driven by the performances of Tommy Jessop as the young boxer and Simon Kunz as his father and trainer. Their relationship feels real, their struggles feel real, their wants and needs feel real and this only magnifies the emotion and impact of the piece. The story really delivers a punch, just not the one you might be expecting.
The narrative and characters of Fighter are destined to grab all the attention when viewing the film, but it’s easy to overlook just how good that production is as well. With the camera spending most of its time orbiting around the character’s faces to capture the emotion of the dialogue, when it does break away from them, it does so in real style. Interrupting the drama with shots of boxing matches, it’s almost like Steel and his team pace their short like a fighter in a match, delivering a series of body shots before going for that bigger knockout hit.
Fighter is an emotional, powerful and thought-provoking watch and it’s to Steel’s credit it doesn’t just descend into a gimmicky film about disability. It feels genuine and it feels like the director gave real thought into how to portray his protagonist and his on-screen family and that really counts for something here – in fact it feels essential in the success of the film.