For a pic that spends most of its time inside prisons, "The Dance" is an often strikingly beautiful piece of work. Shrewdly composed and emotionally rich visuals enhance the nitty-gritty details of artist-turned-filmmaker John Darling Haynes' debut docu feature.

For a pic that spends most of its time inside prisons, “The Dance” is an often strikingly beautiful piece of work. Shrewdly composed and emotionally rich visuals enhance the nitty-gritty details of artist-turned-filmmaker John Darling Haynes’ debut docu feature. Pic about an aging boxing trainer and his relationships with pugilist convicts may score a few theatrical rounds before going the distance in cable and pubcast.

A grizzled ex-boxer who has worked 44 years as a volunteer coach and referee in Louisiana prison system, Billy Roth comes across as a gregarious Good Samaritan who has, in his own way, changed several seemingly dead-end lives. Interviews with past and present inmates who have trained with Roth — including heavyweight Clifford “The Black Rhino” Etienne — attest to his wide acceptance as mentor and father figure. (Interviewed inmates, all black, frequently refer to Roth, a white, as “Pops” or “Dad.”) Pic is disappointingly vague about details of Roth’s outside life, and the glowing testimonials are a bit repetitious. Even so, pic tells a compelling story (that could easily inspire a dramatic feature) with tact, intelligence and skill. Terrific musical score includes blues and gospel standards.

The Dance

Production

A Haynes/Geadelmann Pictures production in association with Casa Grande Entertainment. Produced by Eric A. Geadelmann, John Darling Haynes, Scott Mayo. Directed by John Darling Haynes.

Crew

Camera (color, digital video), editor, Scott Mayo; music supervisor, Scott Brasher. Reviewed on videocassette, Houston, April 5, 2003. (At South by Southwest Film Festival -- Documentary Competition.) Running time: 70 MIN.

With

Narrator: Trace Adkins.
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