When Rakontur, the eponymous documentarians of all things Miami, began shooting Dawg Fight, a film that follows the lives of Dhafir "Dada 5000" Harris and his eclectic band of backyard fighters in the low income suburb of Perrine, President Barack Obama had just taken the oath of office. Last night, with Obama's presidency in its twilight, Rakontur finally premiered their latest film at Miami Dade College's Miami International Film Festival. Dawg Fight is worth the seven year wait.
I'm not just saying that because the movie is inspired and sort of retells my 2008 New Times cover story, "No Fear," that introduced Dada and his backyard fighting scene to the world. Dawg Fight is an action-packed romp tinged with tragedy and teeming with compelling characters. And if you are curious about what life is like for the poorest residents of Miami who live miles away from the sunny beaches, the fabulous nightlife and the condos glistening in the sky, then you should definitely pay the five bucks to watch Dawg Fight online or at O Cinema Wynwood, where the film is being exclusively featured.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.
Dawg Fight is in a completely different solar system when compared to the Cocaine Cowboys and The U film series previously produced by Rakontur. Those movies featured subjects who were providing anecdotal memories about significant eras that shaped Miami in the 1980s through the early part of the 2000s.
This time, company co-founder and director Billy Corben, shot subjects in real time, doing their thing, trying to survive in a poor, yet proud, community of single family homes in unincorporated Miami-Dade.
While Cocaine Cowboys and The U movies were layered in vibrant colors and the backdrops featured palm trees, sand, and sea, there is not a single shot of the beach in Dawg Fight.
Some of the fight scenes were shot in black-and-white using special effects to make the blood pouring out of the combatants a glowing shade of red, giving the movie a gritty noirish feel of Robert Rodriguez's Sin City. At times, the fight scenes, rich with close-ups of the combatants' torn-up faces, feel gratuitous. But those scenes are what will draw in the Internet hive that feeds off sex and violence.
Of course, the movie's headliner is Dada, a former entourage member of ex-backyard brawler and MMA fighter Kimbo Slice. Dada left Slice's side to organize and promote his own backyard fights. He also briefly flirted with a professional MMA career. The supporting cast is filled out by his mother Eleanor Stewart, his twin brothers Arashio and Dyrushio Harris, and the backyard fighters, some of whom get significant film time.
There's Mike Trujillo, who is the first gladiator to get knocked out on camera. That scene had already been seen featured in Rakontur's 2009 Youtube teaser trailer. But in the movie, Corben replays it several times in super slow motion. A loud buzz, meant to illustrate how it feels when a fighter is sent to the Twilight Zone, rings throughout the repetitive shots of Mike collapsing to the ground.
As Dawg Fight progresses, Mike redeems himself by knocking out another backyard regular, Treon "Tree" Johnson, and moving on to a career as a professional mixed martial artist with a 4-0 record. Although Tree ends up being the most lovable character in the film with his wild outfits, goofy antics, and laissez faire fighting style.
And then there's Chauncey, a fan favorite who died while Rakontur was still filming Dawg Fight. Half way through the movie, we learn the brother of Chauncey's girlfriend shot him in the back of the head. His family allowed Rakontur to record a near-lifeless Chauncey in the hospital, which produced the movie's most jarring images. At one point the camera fixes on Chauncey, whose eyelids flicker uncontrollably as he blankly stares at the ceiling.
As Dawg Fight reaches its climax, the camera follows Dada as he prepares for his debut as an MMA fighter at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino. Corben juxtaposes those scenes with ones from Chauncey's funeral. And just when you think Dawg Fight is going to end on a high note with Dada celebrity a victory, you find out that Tree died last year after being tasered by Hialeah Police officers.
Earlier in the film, Dada ruminates about what Perrine represents. "We are the dark side," he said. "This is where dreams are lost and hope is dimished. This is the bottom."
As the we near the end of the second term of the first black president, who campaigned on a promise of hope, Dawg Fight shows us that change hasn't come.
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