Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Felipe Jorge's Touch Gloves

Cody checks out a documentary about a Massachusetts boxing club.

A filmmaker based out of Haverhill, Massachusetts, Felipe Jorge started off directing documentaries with 2013's The Comic Book Palace, which focused on a local comic book store. That's subject matter I'm familiar with, something I connect with immediately. For his second documentary, Touch Gloves, Jorge has taken a look at another local Haverhill business, the non-profit boxing club Haverhill Downtown Boxing.

Boxing is something I'm unfamiliar with outside of seeing the sport presented in movies, usually ones starring Sylvester Stallone, so this subject matter was a mystery to me when I started watching Touch Gloves. With no knowledge of such things, could only evaluate the documentary's overall effectiveness based on how interesting and informative I felt this glimpse into the boxing club world was.

Jorge took an "observational" approach to making the documentary; it doesn't exactly follow a storyline, it just visits the boxing club on several occasions over the course of a year. We get to see how it all works, how the members of various ages handle their training and how Haverhill boxers do in their matches, and we also get to know a bit about owner/operator Ray Hebert.

Hebert comes off like a really admirable, dedicated guy in the documentary, as do the trainers who work for him. Hebert is so dedicated, in fact, that it's mentioned that he has put all of his retirement money into running the gym. Although fighting is a major part of a boxing club, they explain that the fights aren't the place's entire reason for being - the primary reason for its existence is to be a positive place in the lives of the kids who join the club. Going to the gym will keep them out of trouble and give them something productive to do while also offering to make them more disciplined.

My favorite part of the documentary was actually the first 10 minutes or so, which is when we get the best look at what being part of the club offers to the young kids who are members, while at the same time Hebert and others are explaining the benefits of being a member, from helping make kids better members of their community to the health benefits of the exercises; getting in better shape, improving blood pressure, working out stress through the punching, etc. This was exactly the sort of information an outsider like me needed to be provided with.

From that point on, the documentary segues into mainly focusing on the boxing match side of being in the club, following various fighters through the ups and downs of competition. I remained interested throughout, but I was less interested in watching the fights than I was in learning more about the impact the club can have on the lives of its younger members. I would have liked to have learned even more about Hebert as well, it would have been interesting if the documentary had dug deeper into his history and his decision to start running the club.

I still have no intention of getting into boxing myself, but Jorge's documentary was a intriguing look at this particular boxing club, and I was left with a favorable opinion of Haverhill Downtown Boxing. It looks like a welcoming place to go to and a place that's worth supporting.

Touch Gloves was also impressive due to the fact that Jorge made it almost entirely on his own. No budget, no crew, just him and a camera. In the end credits, he advises viewers to give such an endeavor a try for themselves, and with this documentary he has definitely shown that an attempt at doing it could be very successful.

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