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Bouts documentary hits silver screen

Kristen Durbin | Monday, March 7, 2011

After nearly three years of production, the final cut of “Strong Bodies Fight” made its Midwest premiere at Notre Dame Saturday.

The documentary film, which highlights the relationship between Notre Dame’s storied Bengal Bouts and the Holy Cross missions they support in Bangladesh, originally premiered in its “rough cut” form in November 2009. Since then, its creators have edited and perfected the film into the final product that was shown at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, said Pat Ryan, a 2008 graduate and associate producer of the film.

“In any project you work on, you look at it closer and find things to focus on,” Ryan said. “In two hours of footage and interviews, the overall message sometimes gets out of context, so we had to think about that.”

Ryan said the bulk of the film has not changed, but such elements as color and sound have been improved.

“Mark [Weber, producer and editor of the film] did a great job of going back and looking at the fundamentals of the story we wanted to tell,” Ryan said. “He’s pretty much taken it to its end, so now it’s all about getting the film out there for everyone to see.”

In the filmmakers’ first major attempt to raise awareness of the film, they screened the final edition of “Strong Bodies Fight” at the Florida State University Graduate Symposium for Interreligious Dialogue last month, Ryan said. Ryan and his colleagues submitted the film to the symposium after contacting an FSU professor who they had come in contact with through their previous work.

“It’s really cool to get the film out there because this is something we all love, and it’s a huge part of our lives,” Ryan said. “We have no real motive other than wanting people to learn more about the film and to see how great [Bengal Bouts] is.”

Ryan said his team also screened the film in February at its first film festival, the John Paul II Film Festival in Miami, by working with the Notre Dame Club of Miami to promote the film.

“The film was very well-received, and there was a lot of interest in it,” Ryan said. “Things have been going great so far.”

The broad scope of the Notre Dame alumni network has opened doors for the film in spreading the word and raising funds for the Holy Cross missions highlighted in the film, Ryan said.

“We pretty much have an open door policy with the film because we just want to share it with all the alumni clubs and whoever else wants to see it,” Ryan said. “We hope that the more people know about our relationship with Bangladesh and the great things Bengal Bouts does, the more people will donate money and make a bigger impact over there.”

The financial impact of the Bouts on impoverished Bangladesh is especially significant because the exchange rate of Bangladeshi taka to US dollars is about 72 to 1, so last year’s Bengal Bouts fundraising total of more than $100,000 will make a big difference, Ryan said.

But for Ryan, bringing “Strong Bodies Fight” back to the Notre Dame community has been the most important step in the process of promoting the film after years of hard work.

“It’s a timeless film because the Bouts will still happen every year and raise money for the missions,” Ryan said. “We want to show how incredible this school is and how great the work of Bengal Bouts and the missions is, so in the scheme of things it doesn’t matter how long it took us to make the film.”

After the filmmakers traveled to Bangladesh in May 2008, Ryan and Weber decided more boxers should have the opportunity they had, so they helped create an International Summer Service Learning Program that would allow four to five men to share their experience.

“The ISSLP is the greatest thing to come out of this,” Ryan said. “It’s not just about us, and the fact that 10 guys have already gone there means it’s changing the program and the understanding of the boxers and what they’re fighting for.”

Besides bringing the film to the Notre Dame community, Ryan said his team has submitted “Strong Bodies Fight” to several film festivals and will find out where it has been accepted within the next few months.

“2011 will be a big year for us,” Ryan said. “We’re really excited to share the film with everyone.”