Hopefully your Phoenix Film Festival list of movies to see isn't already full, because you're going to want to add Fight Like a Girl, a film told from a first person perspective about the greatly unknown world of women's boxing.
We talk with the film's director and star, Jill Morley, about why she wanted to get involved with women's boxing, what she learned about herself, and how she used the sport as a catalyst to overcome her inner demons.
Morley, who was born in New Jersey and lived in New York for 20 years, says she had been interested in competitive boxing for a long time, and at age 40, decided to go for it.
"I realized I better do it before I get too old, so I figured it was my chance," says Morley. "I used to be an actress, so I didn't want to get my face beat in when I was acting. Now I'm a filmmaker, so I'm like, I can get my face beat in."
Morley started boxing over seven years ago and says that when she started training, she kept meeting so many amazing women whose stories she wanted to tell.
"I was learning about them and I was learning about myself," says Morley. "It was basically that we were confronting our demons through competitive boxing, and we were using boxing as a way to heal. Which sounds counterintuitive, because it's known to be such a violent sport."
Morley says that it's through the training and bonding of the other women, plus the experiences she put herself through while training and fighting, that gives her so much confidence and self-esteem.
Morley says she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which she discovered during the sparring with other boxers, due to repeated flashbacks to abuse she suffered as a child.
"While I had talked about all that and was at peace with it in my mind, it was still caught in my body," says Morley. "So I would freeze and not protect myself, or I wouldn't be able to perform the way I wanted to in the ring, and it was very frustrating because I'd always been an athlete that had done pretty well at things I set my mind to. And I was really setting my mind to this, and I was sucking, terribly."
Morley says she realized she needed to learn how to be present and have it be about the present moment in the ring with the opponent and not about her childhood.
"I try not to tell any horror stories, cause this isn't a 'poor me' movie, it's more like I got past it," says Morley. "It's just like how you can get past it too, how focusing on the present can really improve your life."
Morley says not all female boxers have been abused, although some of them have. Others simply have a competitive personality. However, she says that all the women, including Morley, had demons within themselves.
"We all kind of were fighting against ourselves in order to fight for ourselves," says Morley. "It's kind of the embracing the fight that makes you a good fighter."
Morley says that while it's not a theme in the movie, she hopes people take away from the film the fact that these women are extremely talented, and they aren't getting their fair share in recognition or pay, compared to men's boxing.
Melissa Hernandez, who is featured in the film, has won multiple titles, around five World Title belts, says Morley. Yet we've never heard of her, says Morley, and she still has her day job. Maureen Shea, who is known as the "real" Million Dollar Baby, for her work with Hilary Swank on the film of the same name, is also featured in the film, and has a pro career.
"I also want people to take away just accepting whatever flaws you have, and working with them, and working through it," says Morley. "Your self-esteem doesn't have to be about proving yourself."
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The film took five years to film, two years to edit, and another year getting ready for festivals. Morley still competes every now and then but considers herself an amateur.
She says she wants people to know that the film isn't just a sports or boxing film, but a film about women using competitive boxing to confront their demons and make themselves whole again.
You can catch the film Fight Like a Girl at the Phoenix Film Festival today at 5:10 p.m. and Monday at 5:20 p.m. at Harkins Scottsdale 101.