From the director of the controversial Iraq War documentary Gunnar Palace, mixed martial arts documentary Fightville is currently available on DVD courtesy of MPI Home Video. Combining traditional Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu hand-to-hand techniques, MMA has pervaded Western culture in recent years thanks to the popularity of cable showcases like UFC. Unlike most recent treatments like Warrior, which focus on the rise to prominence of professional fighters, Fightville emphasizes the struggle of working class non-professionals, examining their fascination with MMA and the punishing odds against which they must rail in their quest to achieve fame and glory, not to mention simply earning a living in their chosen field.
Set in and around a single popular MMA training facility in Lafayette, Louisiana, Fightville constructs parallel profiles of two dedicated students: talented and promising Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier, and the more easily deferred but equally passionate Albert Stainback. The film intercuts a catalogue of the two fighters’ progress over the course of a single training season with family interviews, contextual counterpoints from former fighter and current promoter Gil Guillory, and some healthy exploration of the sport’s historical evolution and lingering controversial distinction. Interspersed is plenty of harrowing footage of training procedures and amateur cage fights, highlighting both the process, and the final application, of MMA technique.
Fightville is loaded with intriguing and candid behind-the-scenes fight footage, but in terms of narrative and characterization, it unfortunately falls short of the mark. Unlike pro fight documentaries like Beyond the Mat, which dissects the national fixation on professional wrestling and intimately delves into the personal lives of its high profile participants, Fightville seems content to remain at a relative remove from its designated protagonists. It does seem truly incredible to witness the passion, ardor, and personal sacrifice aspiring MMA fighters endure in pursuit of pro status, and the lack of profound insight into the motivations that propel them becomes deeply unsatisfying by the film’s end.
Fightville’s narrative trajectory is unfortunately dry and predictable as well, never achieving the complexity or spontaneity it needs to evoke a sense of genuine involvement. The statistical futility of the film’s central subject is touched upon numerous times – most amateur fighters, even talented and dedicated ones, are never able to successfully build careers as professionals – but it’s never sincerely confronted. This seems like an odd choice considering how dramatically fertile that approach might have been, aligning the finished production more closely with DIY sports docs like The Backyard, which catalogue the angst, longing, and vicarious sense of empowerment that often attracts amateur fight fans and participants.
MPI’s disc features some extended and deleted scenes and a making-of featurette, which mainly centers on director interviews detailing the genesis of the project. Fightville definitely provides general, up-close insight into MMA training, as well as some solid and entertaining displays of technique, but as actual commentary on the phenomenon of MMA and the cultural zeitgeist surrounding it, it’s somewhat disappointingly threadbare.