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.