Former super middleweight and light-heavyweight boxing world champion Joe Calzaghe, who was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in New York recently, is the subject of a documentary feature by Vaughan Sivell, “Mr Calzaghe.” Variety, which has been given exclusive access to the first footage from the film, spoke to the director about the movie, which is in production.
At the center of the pic is the relationship between Joe and his father Enzo, who is his trainer. This father-son team went from humble beginnings in a small town in Wales to the pinnacle of the fight business, culminating with Joe’s final fight, undefeated, at Madison Square Garden. “It really is something special — they love each other and have never deviated from that,” Sivell says.
“There seems to be a growing zeitgeist around, and interest in, the father-son relationship, in the way the world is now — the absence of fathers, the difficulties in the relationship with fathers — and we realized this was a special one. There was some real guts and heart to it.”
Sivell has already shot in London, Wales, New York and Las Vegas, and is set to go next to Sardinia, where Joe’s grandfather lives, to shoot four generations of the family together, cooking a meal. Pic, which is being produced by Western Edge Pictures and Gennaker, is set for a fall release.
From the start, Sivell was keen that the film would be “cinematic.”
“It is a great story, we knew that, but we wanted to make sure it was cinematic — not just in look, but in story style,” he says.
Sivell selected up-and-comer Ricky Patel as his d.o.p. Patel shot on a RED digital camera to “make sure that it has a real luxurious feel,” Sivell says. “Ricky is a brilliant lighter and his talent was the first thing to make the look cinematic.”
But just as important was the story structure and tone.
“We wanted to make sure that the tone of the story felt like something that I could feel was a cinema story,” says Sivell, who finds in Joe’s decision to quit undefeated a parallel in movie history. “It sounds a bit like my favorite type of old Western, where the sheriff has come along from nowhere, cleared up the town, and then put down his guns,” Sivell says.
Joe receives offers worth million of dollars to return to the ring, but has resisted the temptation.
“What he knows is that — like those sheriffs know — it’s not about fighting anymore. The brave guy walks away. It’s about keeping your respect and your record unblemished,” he says. Joe’s health and his relationship with his children are more important to him than the money and the fame. “That is a modern-day hero. That’s who we should be saluting,” Sivell says.
But the more Sivell immersed himself in the boxing world, the more he saw the story differently.
“It started to change from that sheriff story to a heist movie,” Sivell says. “I am really starting to feel that we are making a heist movie about a father and son who planned the best get in, get the loot, and get out, with hard work and determination, and go home, never to be seen again.”
It is a “feelgood movie,” he says, and the key to that is the like-ability of Joe and his dad.
“They just love each other to bits and that is a lovely thing. It is infectious. Ultimately in every film we have on the slate — I would say it is pretty much a theme of what we like to do — is the understanding that people like watching people who like each other. Even though we have bad guys in movies — even this one — we don’t do misery porn,” he says.
Sivell was able to greenlight the pic when Joe agreed to give the filmmaker access to the fight footage, which he had secured after a legal battle with fight promoter Frank Warren. “It was a dealmaker for us,” says Sivell. “We have a very honest approach (to our financing partners). We want to be able to look our investors in the eye and budget the film to go as far as we can to guarantee a payback or breakeven.”
Sivell has just started to talk to potential distributors and pay TV partners. “As we say to our investors, there are enough boxing fans to make this a viable film, but what we really want to do is get that wider audience. It’s a family film.”