One of the questions brought up is “Can you love your neighbor as yourself then knee them in the face as hard as you can?” What’s your take on that? - Ricky Mulvey
"I have had certain misgivings about whether these two worlds overlap or should overlap. But then you meet someone like Paul who is incredibly genuine, is a great guy and a great subject for a film. He won me over." - Daniel Junge
by Ricky Mulvey
Daniel Junge recently won an Academy Award for Best Short Documentary for his film “Saving Face.” This film chronicles the story of Pakistani women, who are victims of acid attacks, a plastic surgeon helping them, and the people changing the formally lenient policies of Pakistan on the subject. Daniel Junge has another previous Oscar nomination, an Emmy nomination, and a Tribeca Film Festival award to his credit.
His upcoming documentary entitled “Fight Church” is about the convergence of Mixed Martial Arts and Christianity and the philosophical conflicts that arise from it. Through interviews with fighters, pastors, and politicians, “Fight Church” presents contrasting view points, on the issue being involved in what many consider a violent sport and being deeply religious. It is co-directed by Bryan Storkel (“Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians”) and is produced by Eben Kostbar and Joseph McKelheer (“The Hammer”).
However, funding is not yet complete for this motion picture. The filmmakers have turned to the fans by starting a Kickstarter campaign in order to acquire the funds necessary to complete the movie.
Loveland Magazine (L.M.) – What about the intermingling of deep Christian faith and Mixed Martial Arts makes a good story?
Daniel Junge (D.J.) – On the surface, many find the two as incongruent. And I think it’s very topical and a popular subject matter as we live in an overtly Christian nation and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is the fastest rising sport. The overlap between those makes a really interesting subculture to observe.
I think it is a contentious subject matter, which is always appealing to documentary filmmakers. There are people who sit very much on one side of the fence and the other. That means that there is a great story there for a documentary filmmaker.
L.M. – I picked up from trailer is that the goal of this movie is to be in the middle of the road and show both views equally, correct?
D.J. – Absolutely. I think that is very much represented in my films as well as Bryan (Storkel’s). We are here to try to be as objective as possible and offer both critiques and supports of this subculture.
L.M. – What subset of Christianity are the majority of the subjects in “Fight Church.”
D.J. – Really there are all varieties of Christians who are bringing MMA into their faith. There are certainly what one would consider as more fundamental Evangelical Christians, but one of the guys we have been filming with is a devout Catholic. And of course there are a lot of Catholics in MMA. There is no specific denomination of Christianity that is embracing this. It is really universal.
L.M. – How did you come across this story?
D.J. – I learned about it from Eben (Kostbar) and Joe (McKelheer) who worked with Paul (Burress) who is prominently featured in the trailer when they were making “The Hammer.” Paul is the head pastor at the Trinity Church in Rochester New York. He was instrumental in helping with “The Hammer” (The film about UFC fighter and Loveland native Matt “The Hammer” Hamill.). A friend of theirs told me about Paul. They said “Hey, here is this guy who is a pastor also trains people in MMA at his church.” That caught my ear because that sounds like a great subject for a documentary. The more I got into it, the more I realized that this merging community of Christianity and Mixed Martial Arts is becoming more and more present.
Our first shoot was with Paul (Burress) and I have to say that is what really sold me on making the film because although I have had certain misgivings about whether these two worlds overlap or should overlap. But then you meet someone like Paul who is incredibly genuine, is a great guy and a great subject for a film. He won me over, and is a very sympathetic subject for a film. I think that is why he is one of the centerpieces to our film.
L.M. – You describe yourself as “Not a terribly devout Christian.” Has your faith shifted with the making of this film?
D.J. – Not necessarily. I grew up Catholic, and I have made a number of films that have faith implications including the murder of a Catholic nun in Brazil (“They Killed Sister Dorothy” narrated by Martin Sheen), and I just did a film on acid violence in the Muslim world (“Saving Face”). In general when I make these films I immerse myself in them, but they don’t profoundly impact my outlook on the world.
I guess I find myself vacillating when I hear critics of this world, and then I spend time with people who are fully immersed in it who are great, and it’s very easy to understand their rational and I think their look on the world is very justified.
L.M. – This film is not finished yet. Where do you see it going and where does it need to go with the money you are trying to raise?
D.J. – I think we are about halfway done with shooting and we have identified some great principal subjects, but I think we are still looking for one more. We need to continue following up with the subjects we already have, and that takes money. We have thankfully had early angel investors in the film who brought it this far, but we are looking to get through the bulk of production with this Kickstarter campaign. We have enough skills as filmmakers to know that once the film is in the can we can find a way to get it edited, as were efficient in that regard, and then out to the public. Right now we need the money to keep shooting for the rest of the calendar year.
L.M. – One of the questions brought up in the trailer is “Can you love your neighbor as yourself then knee them in the face as hard as you can?” What’s your take on that?
D.J. – That’s coming from a subject who is really questioning the overlap of these two worlds right now. I think others in the film would state it much more diplomatically. If you want to be brash, that is the premise of the film. There are many in this world who say ‘absolutely you can’ and that your faith doesn’t mean you can’t enter into a cage for an athletic competition, to see who is best.
L.M. – Is the movie also about the idea that people twist their faith to make it adhere to what they want to do regardless of what their religion tells them?
D.J. – There are many in the film giving interpretations of the Bible. But one thing you can say emphatically and without question, is that, nowhere does it outlaw Mixed Martial Arts. Therefore religion is such that everyone has their own interpretation; sometimes a very passionate interpretation of whether or not it encompasses their lifestyle. The people who inhabit this lifestyle, fight and are devout Christians believe that they are no contradictions there.
I’m not personally defending them. I am just presenting both sides. I have some of the same questions as you. I think that the good thing about my filmmaking team is they all feel a little bit different about this. They come from different perspectives and that is a good thing. It keeps us right down the middle of the road, which is where the film needs to be.
L.M – Christianity, like nearly all faiths, has had its share of bloodshed and violence. Does this movie hit on the fact that violence has a history in nearly all religions including Christianity?
D.J. – We ask those questions and I think the implications of those issues will be in the final film. At the end of the day, were making a film about a specific subculture and giving them a voice.
We don’t want the film to just be a debate. We want it to be about subjects’ lives so the viewer can empathize with them, and understand their world. While these questions will be addressed, and I think are important, the film doesn’t purport to answer them or offer a major critique in that regard.
L.M. – How can people who are interested in “Fight Church” help out?
D.J. – I think the best money you can get is from your fan base. They believe in the material and are going to ultimately support the film. So I would simply say that if anyone watched the trailer and is intrigued and wants to see it finished to kick in the least little bit to help us get there.