Ben Holman illuminates the story of one young man on a mission to turn lives around in Rio’s favelas by channelling their energies into boxing. 

“I used to be really rowdy, but now I’m a really good student. Without Abraço Campeão (Embracing Champions) my life would be a whole lot worse.” Those are the words of Erick Batista Junio, or Rocky Junior as he’s known to his friends and family, a young boy living in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. He is just one of those learning to box under the tutorship of Alan Luiz Duarte.

Friends for over a decade with director Ben Holman, Alan has grown up in the slum of Complexo do Alemão in the Brazilian capital, and has faced the plethora of difficulties it throws up on a daily basis. In 2012, his brother Jackson was shot and killed, one of ten members of his family lost to gang warfare. It’s no secret that gun violence driven by the drugs trade is big business in Brazil, but rarely do we get to see such close attention paid to those who suffer its consequences. As the camera pans through the alleys of the favellas, motorcycle riders carrying guns cover their faces as they weave in and out, as Alan explains that it’s the drug traffickers who have all the money and get all the girls.

In 2005, Alan began boxing, and it was after the death of his brother that he found real motivation to use the sport he loved for good in his community. “I realised I could make my story a beautiful one,” he says. Hoping to create opportunities for those who have none, he began Abraço Campeão, without any funding, with the intention of encouraging alternatives to a life of crime. It certainly works for some of those involved. Not only Rocky, but pregnant women considered failures and those now rid of their drug-fuelled pasts are turning their lives around in the ring, where everyone is equal.

It’s touching to see Alan’s mother Elena so proud of her son, and it makes you wonder the fear that must go through a parent’s mind every day in such a hostile environment. In one scene, a child explains how scared he is that a stray bullet might take his life, only to be followed by the clatter of gunfire as the children scarper.

Cinematographer Neirin Jones has managed to capture the daily realities of life inside a favela, whilst at the same time deliver ing a vivid and effervescent presentation of the hope within that there can be a better future. At times more like an advert for Coca Cola or beer, the sort you get in cinemas, the stunning camerawork is complimented by vibrant original music from Maga Bo, Ben Lamar Gay, and Mc Cidinho. It’s combination of sheer joy and hope with the reality of the problem of gang violence in Rio is beautifully handled, it’s no wonder the documentary took home the top prize at Tribeca last year.

It’s testament to both Jones and Holman’s moving short film, and Alan’s indefatigable pursuit of a better future that his NGO Abraço Campeão has gained enough funding to continue on with its work combining boxing and mentoring for another year. As the people of Complexo do Alemão dance under the stars in the final scene in the film, the encouragement and hope provided for by Alan Duarte’s project is brought to life with effervescent joie de vivre. This is a film that makes you reconsider how lucky you really are, and how there’s always hope even at the darkest of times.

★★★★★

The Good Fight will be screening at King’s College on 31st January during Brazil week.