A young boxer fighting depression in the run-up to his first fight is Owain Astles’ Exeter Phoenix bursary winning short The Hardest Fight.
The micro short is part of a larger campaign that looks at the links between mental health and boxing, taking notice of how boxing can help the battle against mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
“I’ve been boxing for perhaps two, maybe three years, but I know that it’s helped me a lot,” said Owain when we caught up with him.
“It all kicked off with Tyson Fury, there was a lot of news about that – and that got me to look into it more,” said Owain, who also mentions other boxers who have struggled with depression: Frank Bruno, Ricky Hatton.
Owain looked into the support provided by boxing organisations – the Frank Bruno foundation runs non-contact boxing classes, and boxing training for people with mental illnesses. And he’s been working with the Bristol Boxing gym.
It’s the combination of going at your own pace and the camaraderie of the gym environment, plus the health benefits of a training routine that make boxing an ideal sport to support mental health, says Owain. And boxing has a rep of giving people opportunities.
To help formulate the story, Owain and his team have been interviewing boxers, the results of which will create the internal monologue of the main character Joshua.
“We don’t have a cast at the moment,” said Owain. “We’re aiming to get our actors from the gyms we’ve worked at. Real boxers.”
The cast will be small, and the focus will be on what’s going on in the head of the central character, which will be reflected in the cinematography, which takes its cues from a claustrophobic Son of Saul stylee.
The colour palette will be very dull, monotone, and grey scale with splash of dark red.
The main character will be in the centre of the frame, with the other characters out of focus in the background.
“We’re getting across the mindset you are in with depression. It feels like everything’s cut off, you’re almost in a bit of a dream,” said Owain.
The mood board reflects that feeling of claustrophobia.
It’s an ambition that extends to the soundscape of the short, with diegetic sound distorted, muffled or heightened: the slam of a door, or the wraps on his hands and the pull of his gloves; loud, clear, slicing. Whereas other sounds like people speaking, the chat of the crowd as he enters the ring, very loud but slightly distorted.
“You’re almost in another world so whenever you hear someone they’re muffled in a way, you’re so trapped in your own head.”
Co-producing the film is Owain’s partner in film production company Pastles, Kelsey Stewart, who also has experience of the boxing scene in Bristol.
The micro film format is ideal for this story, said Owain.
“A lot of work has gone into this film,” he said. “But this is the best length for this film – it’s short but very intense.”
There are unexpected similarities with Owain’s previous film Sleeping Rough. The research and basing the story on interviews, for example, although the interviews are used in different ways.
“Sleeping Rough is very much a film based on things that have been described to us, whereas the Hardest Fight is definitely a fictional storyline – the interviews are used to show the sounds that are in someone’s head. Whereas in Sleeping Rough the interviews are to get across that they are real incidents.”
Another similarity is Owain’s natural focus on social issues through his filmmaking.
“I do hope it will raise awareness of mental health issues on one hand, and that boxing can be used to help that,” said Owain.
“I love making films and I feel it would be futile for me if it didn’t get anyone to think about the issues afterwards. If it didn’t aim to make a change.”
The Hardest Fight will be premiered at Two Shot Nights at the Exeter Phoenix on December 1, 2017.
Support The Hardest Fight with the crowdfunder campaign