By Josef Arbiv

An accomplished actor (with roles in Alkinos Tsilimidos’ acclaimed low budget dramas, Em 4 Jay, Tom White, and Blind Company, along with Embedded, the debut feature film from celebrated playwright and screenwriter, Stephen Sewell), Nick Barkla has just made his first move behind the camera, with the documentary short, Inside Fighter. Gritty, honest, and true, the doco focuses on Melbourne based professional boxer, Frank Lo Porto, who has long dreamed of becoming the first Italian/Australian world champion in fifty years. When current undefeated champion, Austin Trout, offers him a chance to fight for the title at short notice, Frank jumps at the chance. With rigorous determination and rolling on a wave of underdog spirit, he faces a seemingly insurmountable battle to get prepped in time. Sweating it out in the gym, Frank throws himself into a brutal, gruelling training regime that puts his body, mind, and spirit to the test. His true test, however, comes when he gets into the ring against the far more fancied Austin Trout. “Frank has over ten years’ experience in the fight game,” Nick Barkla tells FilmInk. “He was an Australian amateur and professional light-middleweight champion, and at the time of the documentary, he was ranked number 12 in the WBA world rankings. Frank is like many top boxers in Australia in that they don’t get a lot of public recognition because the sport isn’t popular enough to attract mainstream media attention. There’s a handful of boxers that are well known to the public, but outside of that, there are many fighters like Frank putting in long hours and plenty of work and sacrifice that really are doing it for the love of the sport.”

You’ve previously had success as an actor. What made you decide to switch your focus to directing?

“I hadn’t been planning on directing – it was Frank’s story that got me interested in getting behind the camera. I knew that Frank was an outside chance to get a shot at a world title, and I had actually filmed an earlier fight of his on the off chance that he would get a shot, but given his age and ranking, it was still a far off possibility. But once the call came that the opportunity was his, I dropped everything, grabbed a camera, and was in the gym the next day filming. I wanted to document the journey for Frank first and foremost, so that whatever happened, he always had a recording of it. Not many boxers get to fight for a world title, so it’s a special thing, and to be allowed unrestricted access was a real privilege, and something that I felt audiences would also appreciate.”

Frank Lo Porto
Frank Lo Porto

Can you speak to the issues, challenges, or consequences that boxers face, and that are perhaps not widely recognised?   

“Boxing is unlike many other solitary sports like tennis and golf, in that only the top fighters earn a decent living from boxing. Tennis players and golfers can be ranked in the top hundred and do very well, travel the world, and sustain a career, whereas most of the prize money in boxing goes to the world champions or top contenders. It’s a brutal sport, physically, emotionally, and financially. It’s a real sport of extremes. Many fighters end up broke when their careers are over, and physically damaged. The buzz and adrenaline of combat is also hard to reproduce, and the intense discipline and training regimes required of boxers often means that they’re lost for a while until they find something else that they can dedicate themselves to. Some never do. But I admire their courage, and take my hat off to anyone brave enough to step in the ring!”

Why did you choose to tell Frank’s story via the short-form documentary?

“The content of the story dictated the short form. When I started filming, all I knew was that Frank would fight for the world title in America in five weeks. I didn’t want to try and anticipate or manipulate anything. The story would dictate the length and content of the film. It was freeing working like this, because it allowed me to film without an agenda and trust that whatever happened was meant to happen.”

Inside Fighter
Inside Fighter

You are friends with Frank. Can you speak to how this influenced the style and perspective of what we see on screen? 

“I’m a big fan of The Maysles Brothers documentaries like Salesman and Grey Gardens, so the doco was always going to be cinema vérité and observational. I’m not a fan of interviews and talking heads in docos, and I wanted to try and capture, as closely as I could, what it felt like to be Frank, so I tried to make sure that he was in every scene, and that we got as close to him as possible. My friendship helped, of course, in allowing me intimate access, but it was really Frank’s courage and generosity to share himself in an unguarded manner that was the film’s strength and gift to an audience.”

Inside Fighter will screen at The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, which runs from July 9 -11. For information on Inside Fighter’s screening times and venue, head to Moshtix. Embedded will screen at The Sydney Film Festival, which runs from June 8-19. For session and ticketing information for Embedded, head to The Sydney Film Festival.

  • Pat McCann
    Pat McCann
    24 May 2016 at 12:01 am

    Met young Nick Barkla in the US and have been a fan ever since. His passion for film-making, in front of and now behind the camera, is tremendous!

  • John beiza
    9 November 2016 at 9:31 am

    Hello, how can I get a copy of the inside fighter. Will pay or go anywhere to watch it. Thank you.

  • John beiza
    9 November 2016 at 9:32 am

    How can I get a copy of the inside fighter

  • John beiza
    9 November 2016 at 9:36 am

    If I became a member of clubink. Would I be able to get a copy of inside fighter?

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