By: Sean Crose
“Roberto Duran sort of came my way rather than the other way around,” says film maker Mat Hodgson, director of the new acclaimed documentary “I Am Duran,” the focus of which is famed Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran. Although he had met Duran previously, Hodgson’s discussions about Panama with a friend who had Panamanian roots led to his ultimately creating a movie about that nation’s most famous son. “We were talking about Duran,” he says. “I couldn’t believe the drama of Panama’s history.”
Duran was raised in dire poverty near Panama’s “Canal Zone,” a then American territory which was the source of much hostility and strife. In the fiery Duran, Panamanians saw an athlete, feared and admired, who, despite his flaws, could represent his nation. Hodgson, a passionate, engaging individual, eventually found himself talking to many of Duran’s countrymen, who claimed the now 67 year old got his country “through some dark times.” It was a topic too good for Hodgson not to delve into.
Yet the director wanted to do more than simply tell the story of a fighter. “I wanted to push the parameters,” he says. Watching the film, it’s clear he’s done so. There’s an intimacy to some of the many interviews in “I Am Duran” that at times is almost jarring. The fact that the subjects of many of these interviews are international stars only adds to the impact. “I decided early on,” Hodgson says, “that I wanted all the interviews to be right down the barrel, straight down the lens.”
Hodgson arranged sessions so that the subjects would be staring at his reflection while looking at the camera lens, a technique which presents a sense of immediacy and urgency. The director employed another effective strategy with which to present Duran’s infamous “No Mas” fight with fellow boxing legend “Sugar” Ray Leonard (whose keen insights are the highlight of the film). Hodgson showed both Duran and Leonard the abrupt end of the bout in order to get their reactions. “They are genuinely watching the fight,” says Hodgson of that moment of film. The impact, eerie and profound, will stay with the viewer long after this documentary has ended.
It might be argued that such film making could only come from a true fan of boxing, someone who understands what a powerful, lonely endeavor the sport can be. And Hodgson is a true devotee of the sweet science – an expert in his own right (he has also made the documentary “Night Of The Fight: Hatton’s Last Stand”). “I love boxing,” he says. “It’s the most complicated, simple sport there is.” Like boxing itself, Duran’s story is complicated, yet simple. On the surface, it’s a tale of a poor boy who makes good, then falls from on high, only to pick himself back up again. There’s a lot more to Duran than that, however. For the man has a history of being charming, admirable, cruel, arrogant, loyal, and generous. Such a subject requires a director who knows his craft. Hodgson, needless to say, is steeped in the world of film.
“I’m heavily influenced by so many styles, and films, and film makers,” says Hodgson. “John Carpenter is one of my favorites.” Hodgson also claims he wanted “I Am Duran” to have a kind of retro feel. “I wanted to give it an 80s vibe,” he says. Considering Duran peaked, fell, and peaked again in the 80s, it all makes perfect sense. Still, Hodgson is interested in more than style and flash. “I really get a kick out of films that make people think,” he claims. “Sport is such a basis for drama anyway, but it’s not enough, is it?” In other words, depth, complexity, and a genuine sense of humanity are required. This documentary of Duran: prizefighter, celebrity, husband, father, national icon, friend, and opponent, contains all of those things, along with some quite startling moments.
Rather than resting on his laurels, Hodgson is currently making plans for the future. “Some of them,” he says, “are quite ambitious.” Manchester United and the famed Eric Cantona may well be subjects on the horizon. For now, however, Hodgson can appreciate the fact those long ago conversations with a friend of Panamanian stock led to a noteworthy film. It’s also worth noting that Hodgson’s friend impacted more than just his career. “She’s now my wife,” the film maker says.
Perhaps she’ll lead him to some more film-worthy ideas.