As the world prepares for the boxing match of the century that is the Mayweather vs Pacquio fight next month, a documentary film, The Last Fight — about boxing in Kenya — was launched last week.
The film is about the trials and tribulations that different boxers from Nairobi and Nakuru go through to keep the game alive in a country where public disinterest in the game is only matched by that of the government and institutions charged with keeping it alive.
Directed by writer and filmmaker Jackie Lebo and produced by veteran and award winning sports journalist Roy Gachuhi, The Last Fight through expert storytelling, moving interviews and captivating visuals, casts an eye on the deplorable state that the boxing sport in the country is currently in.
Told predominantly in Swahili but with English subtitles, the story begins with among others, the national lightweight champion John Kariuki and others speaking passionately about the things that attracted them to the sport.
They speak of celebrated boxing heroes such as Robert Wangila that came before them.
They speak of dreams of representing their country and the sport at the commonwealth games or at the Olympics.
In the first few minutes of the film, the sombre mood is set when while speaking about some great athletes, Kariuki takes us to a small single room house in what must be an informal settlement where he lives with his wife and kids.
He is able to laugh the sleeping arrangements off as he proudly showcases some of the medals and certificates he has garnered in his boxing career.
He animatedly speaks of fights he has had and won, only to return home empty handed. To feed his family he does menial labour in markets in Nakuru, offloading sacks of produce from trucks.
TROUBLES OF ITS OWN
The Madison Square Garden, the boxing club that Kariuki belongs to, is facing troubles of its own. They do not have the title deed to the building, donated in 1957 by a British settler, and are at constant risk of eviction.
In a different set-up but similar circumstances, Ndirangu Mahungu, head of Dallas Boxing Club in Nairobi, is fighting the same war. Ndirangu is trying to save the Muthurwa Social Hall the only place left for boxers to train in the area, from private developers, small business people and even the county government that wants to turn the hall into a market.
Aside from trying to save the hall for his community, Ndirangu faces a heavier personal challenge.
After the privatisation of the railway services, his family is being evicted from a place they have called home for decades after his father worked for the railway service for over 30 years. They struggle to fight off demolishers and evictors who show up occasionally with orders and threats.
Other than Kariuki and Ndirangu, the documentary also tells the stories of Issa Mwangi, a young orphaned man trying to get enrolled in the disciplined forces where he hopes to be accorded the facilities and opportunities to pursue boxing.
Another touching story is that of Mary Muthoni, a female boxer struggling to provide for her two children while pursuing her passion in boxing and fending off the often perceived patriarchal nature of the sport.
Jackie Lebo the film’s director has had past successes telling sporting stories in Kenya. Her documentary Gun To Tape which followed the journey of champions Edna Kiplagat and David Rudisha as they trained for the 2012 Olympics was an official selection at Zanzibar International Festival and Scotland African Film Festival.
The film also got nominated in the best documentary category at the 2013 Africa Movie Academy Awards.
In The Last Fight, in collaboration with the film’s co director and director of photography Jim bishop, Lebo is able to piece together a deeply touching story that takes a personal look at how people’s lives are affected when a society refuses to create an enabling environment for them to thrive in their chosen paths.
It is a story of struggle, the nature of the human spirit and the pains of a fast growing capitalistic society where the poor and weak are trampled over and left behind.
The Last Fight is a story of hope over despair. It uses the sport of boxing to tell the stories of the unheard; the underclass who populate the teeming slums of our cities and towns.
There is a running theme of social exclusion where people become poor because some of the institutions that once provided gainful employment to their parents such as the Railways, have been privatised to the benefit of the few to the disadvantage of the many. But it is a story of never-say-die
The writer is executive producer of TV show Young Rich.