Film Fess by Helene Ravlich

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Posted on Thursday 1/09/2016 September, 2016 by

It has been over 30 years since boxer – and living legend – Muhammad Ali first entered a boxing ring, but the immense frisson of excitement that greets his name has never waned. I personally have been a fan of the boxer (and the man) since I was a small child, encouraged by a boxing-mad dad who coincidentally was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at around the same time as Ali. I have never failed to follow his every move, but tonight’s unabashedly heart-warming documentary I AM ALI uncovered for me a multitude more sides to the man and I loved every minute.

An intimate look at the mind behind the legend, the boxer’s story is told in I AM ALI through exclusive, unprecedented access to the modern icon’s personal archive of 'audio journals' combined with touching interviews and testimonials from his inner circle of family and friends. In fact, much of the film is built using snippets from an incredible 80 plus hours’ worth of audiotape gifted from Ali to his daughter Hana, the seventh of his nine children. Heard publicly for the first time, these tapes find Ali talking to family members and close friends about his life, his struggles and his everyday triumphs. 

The end result of being able to hear them is that we become privy to some fairly life-altering choices, such as his 1979 decision to return to the ring. This turned out to be a fateful one as he performed well below his usual boxing standards, and suffered considerable injuries in the process. To be able to hear him tenderly discussing it on the phone with one of his daughters is most unnerving given that we now know the end result, and heartbreaking to boot. It is almost like eavesdropping on one of your heroes, only to discover how human they really are.

I’ve heard that Ali is the most-profiled sportsperson in history, which must have presented quite the challenge for director Clare Lewins when making I AM ALI. How would she break new ground - would she need to facilitate a big reveal, a fresh shock for his fans? Apparently not, as I AM ALI doesn't break any new ground, nor does it claim to. What it is for me is a celebration of a great man, and a brilliant introduction to the boxer, activist and super-celebrity if you don't know much about him. It has all of the expected historical markers in place, including his conversion to Islam and his decision to change his name, his major defeats and victories in the ring, his decision to resist induction during Vietnam and the subsequent loss of his title, his return to the ring, and his diagnosis with Parkinson's. It is packed with loads of never before seen footage, and perhaps only seems a bit average because of the great films about Ali that have come before it.

I AM ALI is hagiographic for sure, but it’s also beautifully made… and a great watch if you’re an unabashed fangirl like me.

 I AM ALI premieres 1st September at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

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