WINNER: Grand Jury Prize, Boston Independent Film Festival 2014
Official Selection, Seattle International Film Festival 2014
“Surprisingly nuanced and intriguing” - Mark Bell, FILM THREAT
Christianity and mixed martial arts probably seem like strange bedfellows at best and diametrical opposites at worst. But an estimated 700 so-called “fight ministries” have popped up across the U.S. in recent years, indicating a growing overlap between the two practices. While this could simply be another signifier of MMA’s growing place in mainstream culture, reconciling what many consider to be brutal and barbaric violence with the Gospel of turning the other cheek doesn’t seem to compute. After all, how do you love your neighbour when you’re kneeing him in the face?
Following four preaching fighters, FIGHT CHURCH paints a surprisingly human portrait of men struggling to reconcile their religious beliefs with their sport of choice. There’s the aging fighter who returned to the church after a misspent and violent youth, the young associate pastor who took up fighting so he could protect his pretty young wife, the ex-pro who sees MMA as a haven for lost souls, and the hotshot with a chance at going pro, who sees himself as a Christian first and a fighter second. For them, training to beat others to a bloody pulp is an extension of worship. But to others, like Father John Duffell, mixed martial arts are an expression of violent hate, completely irreconcilable with the word of God.
For a film tackling such controversial subject matter, FIGHT CHURCH is refreshingly objective and even-handed. Directors Daniel Junge (Academy Award-winner SAVING FACE) and Bryan Storkle (HOLY ROLLERS: THE TRUE STORY OF CARD COUNTING CHRISTIANS), do an impressive job of withholding judgment. Instead they take a more fly-on-the-wall approach, letting the subjects dig their own graves, such as when one participant claims that all of society’s woes can be attributed to the “feminization” of men while showing his young sons how to shoot handguns. Yet, through all the chest kicks and choke holds we never lose sight of the fighters’ humanity, giving the film relevance beyond religious freak show or testosterone-filled fury. By turns shocking, touching, and even inspirational, FIGHT CHURCH is unlike any sports documentary you’ve ever seen. And remember, “Jesus didn’t tap out.”
— Mariko McDonald