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Bengal Bouts: Film Screening gives 2010 Bouts more punch

Laura Myers | Friday, February 26, 2010

Every time one of the 188 boxers in this year’s Bengal Bouts throws a punch, there is an impact.

Bengal Bouts senior co-presidents Chris Cugliari and Pat Burns and Bouts’ five senior captains have spent countless hours teaching others the best ways to make an impact, both in and out of the ring.

This aspect of their jobs became a little easier after the November on-campus debut of “Strong Bodies Fight,” a documentary produced by Bengal Bouts alums Mark Weber and Pat Ryan and Notre Dame film professor Bill Donaruma.

The film documents the history of the Bengal Bouts and its partnership with the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. It contains footage of the Bengali people and countryside shot when Weber, Ryan and three others visited the country in May 2008.

The 2010 Bengal Bouts were the first to benefit from the additional exposure.

“We’ve got a great relationship with the current captains and the guys who are fighting now,” said Ryan. “They’ve had the opportunity to see it and from what we’ve been hearing from them, guys have been telling us how much of an inspiration it has been, especially in preparing for the fights. It’s great to see what the big picture is as they get ready for the fights. It’s really helpful and encouraging for them.”

“Strong Bodies Fight: Rough Cut” showed three screenings at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on Nov. 6 and 7. The producers collected feedback from the audiences in order to make changes and come out with a final version.

“The reaction was fantastic,” Ryan said. “We had three showings on that weekend and we had three standing ovations … People enjoy hearing the story. It’s what we hoped from the outset. The Bengal Bouts is such a unique story and people got to see that in a really dynamic way.”

This year’s captains arranged a screening of the movie for the boxers prior to the first night of fights, Feb. 13.

“Showing the movie to everyone involved in the program was great because it really put a face to the missions,” Cugliari said. “It really established that we do have a personal relationship with these missions and the people that we’re helping. We’re not just throwing money at a problem; we have a tangible, personal relationship.”

Senior captain John Maier and junior Bobby Powers, two of the four students to go on Notre Dame’s first International Summer Service Learning Project in Bangladesh this summer, emphasized the importance of experiencing the mission.

“It’s relaying a personal experience,” Maier said. “In all honesty, freshman, sophomore year, boxing was more on the radar. You know you’re supporting a good cause and what’s going on, but … I didn’t even really know what the motto of the club meant, ‘strong bodies fight so weak bodies may be nourished.'”

Powers credited the filmmakers’ efforts as a driving force behind the creation of the ISSLP.
“It’s just an exponential growth,” he said. “The documentary came out, now we have four guys a year going over for six weeks. For eighty years we didn’t do anything really personal like that, and now we’re going there for six weeks. That started with the documentary.”

The four boxers even began a new tradition for the team.

“This year we brought back two words we would say [after practice],” Maier said. “All the captains would yell ‘Shokti,’ which is Bengali for strength, and then everyone else yells ‘Shahosh,’ which means courage in Bengali.”

Cugliari said the movie has been very inspirational to this year’s fighters.

“We’ve seen people become more enthusiastic during the tournament, going out and trying to get donations from people, tell people about this cause,” he said. “Now all of our boxers, they know what it’s about.

“It’s just kind of been one constant reminder throughout the tournament,” he added. “It’s obviously going to be on the back of everyone’s minds as you step into the ring.”
But the movie’s reach extended beyond the boxers themselves.

“We saw an impact on the rest of the student body,” senior co-president Pat Burns said. “I went to a party after the premiere and they were taking donations for the missions just based on what they had seen in the documentary.”

Donaruma said the producers hope to finalize the film this summer and begin entering it into film festivals, with the main focus on the Sundance Film Festival. If chosen, “Strong Bodies Fight” would be a part of the 2011 premiere circuit, Ryan said.

From there, the impact of Bengal Bouts can only grow.

“It’s for the Notre Dame community and for the current and former boxers,” Ryan said. “We’re really excited to get them something they’ll be proud of and to share it with the whole world.”