Samsung produced short doc aims to give athletes “A Fighting Chance.”
A Fighting Chance is directed by Morgan Neville.
In anticipation of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Samsung partnered with Morgan Neville, the Academy Award-winning director of Twenty Feet From Stardom, to produce a short-documentary about several Olympic hopefuls. The original intention was to profile athletes from countries that had never won a medal (this was modified slightly when they decided to cover a female athlete from a country where a woman had never won a medal). The four athletes profiled in the film are Tsepo Mathibelle, a marathon runner from Lesotho, Yenebier Guillén Benítez, a boxer from the Dominican Republic, and Miller Pata and Linline Matauatu, beach volleyball players from Vanuatu.
The 37-minute doc is slick and well produced. The editors cut from story to story with elegance. The film’s runtime is divided evenly amongst the three stories. Director of photography Graham Willoughby keeps the film looking crisp, colorful, and visually appealing. There’s some nice, judiciously applied slow-motion. He crafts some wonderful images here (Yenebier silhouetted, sitting on a pier, for instance), and there are some absolutely gorgeous helicopter shots of the Lesotho countryside, filled with lush greens and blues.
All three athletes grapple with a particular struggle. Tsepo has to make time for training while having to take care of his aging parents. Yenebier has put off her plans to start a family to focus on her sport. And Miller and Linline have to balance motherhood and their training regimen. While these are all fine ways of differentiating the athletes, we are never really made to feel how they meaningfully impact their lives and performance. They are sort of referred to initially and then dropped. And while all of the documentaries subjects are likeable, we never get that much insight into why exactly they are so dedicated to their sport.
The one moment of real depth and vitality occurs towards the end, where Tsepo relates the story of his experience in the 2012 London games. Due to an unforeseen complication, Tsepo’s performance suffers. To be more specific would spoil the story. When Tsepo speaks of it, he breaks down, crying as we see footage from the event. This display of heartbreak and passion is undoubtedly the most gripping moment in “A Fighting Chance.”
While there is nothing truly exceptional about the film, it is engaging throughout and successfully gets the viewer invested in the success of the four depicted athletes, all of whom seem like incredibly earnest, hard-working individuals.
A Fighting Chance is streaming on YouTube and Vimeo.
-Anthony Joseph Calamunci