The Contender isn't a contender anymore, it's a winner.
The short-film about Prince George boxing coach and one-fight professional boxer Wayne Sponagle picked up the Best Student Short Film trophy at the East Van Showcase Film Festival. The event was held at the Rio Theatre prominent on the east side of Vancouver, and local youth director/writer Isaiah Berra was in attendance to accept the accolade.
He is a film student at Capilano University (Nicholas Kendall the supervising instructor) and this movie grew out of a class project that became a passion project.
"The festival selected 23 films out of 175 entries. The Contender was one of seven selected to screen in the student category," said Berra. He was accompanied at the event by the film's executive producer Ginny McKeown and cinematographer Erik Morin.
"I submitted The Contender to the East Van Showcase because every film student in Vancouver wants to screen at the Rio Theatre," said Berra. "My friends and I go to midnight screenings of Tommy Wiseau's The Room all the time - The Rio is iconic. The festival was also a door into the Vancouver independent film scene. There were several talented artists and storytellers from around the area that I had the opportunity to connect with at the after-party."
The number of festivals that have screened The Contender now totals three. Berra said he believes the most prominent strength of the film is the writing, but the writing's strength was the life of Sponagle that made the storytelling process so vivid and compelling - the tale of a hardscrabble Prince George boxing coach who decided to step into the pro ring at twice the age of his competitor and fight him to a draw.
"The Contender will be released on my Vimeo page on November 13th, 2018 on the 21st anniversary of Wayne Sponagle's debut fight. In the meantime, I have uploaded the actual fight from 1997 for people to watch. The footage was converted from the last surviving VHS copy of the event."
Berra said he is still fascinated by Sponagle the man, which is why he has such high hopes for the film on which he worked so hard, because it was so intimate in its nature. Now, in the latest twist in Berra's personal and professional life, he found out just how strong the film was in his corner.
"In early development, I was in a meeting with Mike Carson, who is my writing mentor and served as The Contender's story consultant. Mike recommended I study a documentary called Facing Ali (2009) because it conveyed themes that would also be explored in our film. Facing Ali was about fighters who entered the ring because of circumstances that took place outside of it and it was similar events that forged Wayne Sponagle into a man, a boxing trainer, and more than anything, a contender.
"When I completed The Contender, I included its Vimeo link in a job application to Network Entertainment, the company that made Facing Ali, and I was hired as the story intern in the research and writing department. I sit at a desk in a downtown Vancouver office with an unmatched opportunity to hone my craft as a writer, and I have Wayne Sponagle to thank for that."