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Jim Ferguson Interviews
Karyn Kusama
Director of "Girlfight"

Picture of Karyn Kusama #1Writer/director Karyn Kusama makes her feature debut with "Girlfight," a rites of passage story about a young woman finding discipline, self-respect and love in the most unlikely place - the boxing ring. Winner of the Best Directing Award and a shared Grand Jury Prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, "Girlfight" stars newcomer Michelle Rodriguez alongside Jaime Tirelli, Paul Calderon and Santiago Douglas.

Jim Ferguson chats with Karyn Kusama about the film and women in the boxing ring.

Jim Ferguson: Well Karyn, I really don't know where to begin with "Girlfight" except congratulations. Let's start there. That's a good way to start with this wonderful film. Winner of the grand jury prize at Sundance [Film Festival].

Everyone loves this film. Why do you think that's so? I didn't hear one of my colleagues say that they disliked this movie at all. They liked it, and people enjoy this movie.

Karyn Kusama: You know, I never set out to make a movie that people would really, really like. It wasn't conscious on my part. But I think there's something appealing about seeing a young woman in this antihero role, and seeing a young woman go through a tremendous personal change and still be on the precipice of still more decisions. Not being a finished character for the audience, but instead a living, breathing human being, and hopefully a lot of the other characters in the movie come through in that way too.

I'm just hoping of course, but you know, everyone is struggling with their own lives and that does not necessarily have to be a bummer, that you can watch a movie where people are going through hardship and change and still be entertained.

Jim: I read that you enjoy films, any story, that dealt with somebody who is a nobody that makes them become somebody, so you must have, like me, loved Sylvester Stallone in "Rocky."

Kusama: I will admit, I have not actually seen all of "Rocky." So I don't know that film all that well except for the scene where he drinks the eggs. That always made an impact.

Jim: But that's what it's really all about. It's an escape through boxing and becoming somebody.

Casting was so important in this film, and you scored 100%, because I think all the characters really are believable.

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Kusama: Oh good, thank you. I hope so. I mean, I was setting out to make a film where we saw a lot of fresh faces, and a lot of people who did feel believable and authentic in the film. Casting was a lot of fun, and when we finally found the right girl to play Diana, Michelle Rodriguez, it was sort of like, the rest of the casting sort of started to fall into place.

And it was really an interesting experience. There are so many great, great actors in New York who primarily work in theater and some on TV who just frankly never get the roles that they should be getting. It was just so great to put them in this film. I love them all dearly.

Jim: Good choices, and Michelle told me how it came about - you shoot her eyes a lot, the "eye of the tiger" look, that she was just holding her gloves up and she had that, and you asked her to keep that look.

Kusama: Yeah, I think she has a tremendous veracity, and it's so fresh and entertainment  to see somebody who doesn't back down and who happens to be a woman, you know, not even as a huge political statement but just as a fresh new take on an old staple of cinema.

Jim: Timing for "Girlfight" is wonderful too, because women's boxing is catching on. Mohammed Ali's daughter and Joe Frasier's daughter, and it's getting popular and more and more young ladies going into this field

Kusama: Yeah, I think it's a sport that's really growing. I think it has a long way to go. It takes a long time to develop a solid pool of talent; that takes years. But I do think that there are some great, great female boxers out there, who really prove that the sport is justified. If anything, perhaps just sort of reveal what's uncomfortable about boxing in the first place, which is it's violent.

Jim: I don't believe anybody could have written this screenplay and directed it without having some experience in the ring. Did you ever put the gloves on?

Kusama: Oh sure. Yeah definitely. I did, and I sparred, and it was not for me. And I realized I keep my fight outside of the ring to some degree, and what I'm trying now to explore and sort of take a leap into my imagination with, is the person who realizes that the best place for her fight is in the ring, and that was a lot of fun to be finding that character.

Jim: And some of your lines like, "You don't know what it is like to be in the ring. It's so lonely."

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Kusama: Yeah (laughter), it's a very lonely place. And that's what I also think is interesting about it as a sport. You are really facing yourself along with your opponent.

Jim: And the training. People don't understand - just put a pair of gloves on and hold them up for a minute for three or four rounds. It's unbelievable, and the timing and the punching bag which you bring out in the film, and your cast told me how difficult that was.

Kusama: Oh yeah, it's not easy. Training to be a boxer is just not an easy job at all. I think great boxers are some of the best conditioned athletes in the world.

Jim: It was fun talking to Santiago Douglas, and I skipped over that and I shouldn't have, that "Girlfight" is not just female boxing, it's a wonderful love story. Can you comment on that?

Kusama: I wanted the film to sort of be set in the world of boxing, but be very rich and filled with other stories that life has to offer, which are the stories of the families, and the love story is very central to the film. It's about dealing with the responsibility of love and love among equals. That's not easy (laughter). So I wanted to explore that scenario.

Jim: You certainly did, and there are many avenues - the young men escaping from the ghetto areas, and there are some many layers to the movie. I can't believe that it was your first time in a feature film, your directorial debut.

My big congratulations. Go see "Girlfight," because it is a great film.

Kusama: Thank you!

AsianConnections wishes to thank Jim Ferguson and Karyn Kusama for their valuable time for this interview.


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