Making it’s debut at the Philadelphia Film Festival (October 20 – November 3, 2011) is the boxing documentary Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears. In development for over three years, the film gives a detailed look at the former champion revealing his roots in South Carolina’s Gullah community to his international fame as a sports icon.
Directed by Mike Todd, the film also shows his commitment to his adopted home of Philadelphia.
Joe’s life is in many ways the classic rags to riches narrative. He had few natural advantages. He was poor, poor in the Deep South, pre-civil rights sense of poor. Physically, he was short and his left arm, damaged in a farm accident, was permanently crooked. And although he doesn’t like to use it as any sort of excuse, it’s now widely accepted that Joe fought most of his career with failing sight in one eye.
This year is the 40th Anniversary of the Fight of the Century and Joe’s famous victory over Muhammad Ali. To Joe it seems like yesterday. Frazier hasn’t forgotten the way Ali taunted him in the publicity circus that surrounded their three epic contests. The film explores the past and the context of their rivalry.
The documentary also explores Joe’s current circumstances and what motivates him to continue his involvement in boxing. Since his retirement, Joe has run ‘Joe Frazier’s Gym’ in one of Philadelphia’s more troubled neighbourhoods.
We follow the specific story of Isaiah Muneer – a young fighter from the gym. For Isaiah life hasn’t changed much since the days when Joe came to Philadelphia. From his experience and perspective, as a young black male, if you’re not good at sport – or somehow involved in entertainment – there is little opportunity.
With over 400 murders in Philadelphia in 2007, the film brings to life the ongoing relevance of the socio-economic issues highlighted in the era of Frazier Ali. We see how Joe has reached out.
We follow Isaiah’s training – a reminder of the visceral, physical reality of boxing, the extreme sacrifices it demands and its all or nothing economic parameters. For Isaiah, Joe’s gym is a haven. Isaiah’s efforts to enter (and win) the 2008 Pennsylvania Golden Gloves will provide additional narrative drive to the film.
Throughout the documentary we also speak to commentators ranging from HBO’s Larry Merchant, who owned a stake in Joe’s career from the beginning, to Joe’s former opponent, George Foreman and Joe’s friend, Larry Holmes, plus many more.
What is it that Joe and his son Marvis believe boxing can offer to those with little opportunity? For Joe there is a truth in the sport and in his Philadelphia gym he has found some peace. We follow him on his quest to finally lay to rest the ghosts of his past.
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