KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
QATAR broadcaster Al Jazeera on Wednesday aired the award-winning documentary Between Rings, which tells the story of Zambiaâ€™s female boxing sensation Esther Phiri, dubbed by US television channel ESPN as the â€œ400 Million Kwacha Baby.â€
The documentary, which won a diploma of merit at the Tampere Film Festival in Finland and was nominated for the Nordic Dox Award at the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival (CPH: Dox), ran under the title of Zambiaâ€™s Boxing Star on Al Jazeera.
â€œIn the wrong hands, this film could have been a predictable and sentimental story, but the Finnish/Zambian directors Salla Sorri and Jessie Chisi have created an exceptionally realistic film, which avoids politically correct clichÃ©s in favour of a portrait that makes space for the contrasts, conflicts and inner tensions that are also a part of Esther Phiriâ€™s story,â€ CPH: Dox, one of Europeâ€™s largest documentary festivals commented on the documentary.
Otherwise, the documentary, co-produced for Al Jazeera by Nigerian-British film maker Victoria Thomas, traces Estherâ€™s rise from a vegetable-seller to a seven-time world champion in true Hollywood material. It is an inspiring story of a woman who literally fought for a dream at odds with what society expected of her.
â€œPhiri has overcome even more obstacles than Hilary Swankâ€™s character in Clint Eastwoodâ€™s multiple Oscar winner, from the death of her father when she was six and subsequent poverty and lack of education, to falling pregnant at 16 and the death of her sister, who left her with four more children to care and provide for,â€ according to a statement by the producers.
â€œIn the documentary, Phiri recalls being the only female at her first boxing gym. â€˜Most of the guys thought I was there just looking for a guy,â€™ she says. â€˜But I just went and trained.
Some people looked at me strangely and some guys didnâ€™t even talk to me. They thought I might be a prostitute. Can you imagine this situation? It was a tough time, but I wanted to prove a point to those who said negative things.â€™
â€œSheâ€™s more than proven her point, but the documentary shows that success has come at a price, notably a loss of privacy and a sense of loneliness. â€˜I gave up marriage for my career,â€™ she says. â€˜I thought marriage was a good thing but with a career I could achieve moreâ€¦I built my own house through boxing. Had I married fast, Iâ€™d never have achieved all thisâ€™.â€
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka