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BAM BAM

★★★

A ONE-TWO PUNCH AGAINST STEREOTYPES

MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
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By Jake Watt
6th July 2018

“What would happen if you were normal?” Melbourne filmmaker Jemma van Loenen asks Australian Flyweight boxing champion, Bianca Elmir, the subject of her debut feature, ‘Bam Bam’.

“Ah, fuck... I’d probably turn into a serial killer,” Elmir offers after a moment of thought, then laughs. “Which is not normal!”

Filmed over three years, the documentary follows Elmir, a Lebanese-Muslim migrant, from a single-parent family, in white, middle class Canberra, on her pursuit to be the first Australian to win a World Amateur Boxing Championship.

Elmir is a pressure fighter, her compact frame always questing forward towards her opponent in the ring, her muscular arms throwing a high volume of punches. Shadowing its subject, ‘Bam Bam’ keeps the momentum of Elmir’s life moving and the questions flying.

Less than 10 minutes into the film, we see the confident Elmir suffer a shocking split-decision defeat, beaten by Simone Bailey in the world championship qualifiers in 2014. “Why does she get robbed of decisions that matter?” wonders boxer Mischa Merz when asked about her friend’s rocky relationship with her governing sports federation. “That’s maybe to do with her personality.”

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Aside from having a ton of energy and a strong anti-authoritarian streak (“last time I was in the Aussie team, I was so naughty... hee-hee”, she recalls), Elmir is a supporter of LGBT rights, in addition to being active with women’s groups and political causes. She’s also articulate and deeply introspective, which makes her an interesting subject for a documentary.

Co-producer, writer and director van Loenen touches on the dynamics between Elmir’s boxing and her Lebanese Muslim background - a standout scene occurring as Elmir is seated in the family living room, brawny and singlet-clad, flanked by her demure, headscarf-wearing relatives. “You’re lost,” says her grandmother Amira Rahman, not unkindly, as they discuss Elmir’s untraditional life.

After her parents divorced when she was an infant, her mother, Diana Abdel-Rahman (an OAM recipient for her tireless work with multicultural organisations), kidnapped Elmir from her paternal grandparent’s home in Iaal, Lebanon, flew her to Sydney and then raised her in Canberra, Australia. She then had the challenge of dealing with the strong-willed, high-tempered girl.

Also explored is Elmir’s sense of femininity (she remarks that, while she loves boxing, sometimes “I’d just like someone to pat my face... not smash it”), and the conflicting aspects of her personality. Elmir is a self-confessed larrikin who struggles to balance her ambition and discipline inside the gym with her freewheeling lifestyle outside of it - an athlete who dislikes being told what to do but who enjoys a fatherly relationship with Gary Hamilton, her Cockney-accented coach.

Co-producer, writer and director van Loenen touches on the dynamics between Elmir’s boxing and her Lebanese Muslim background - a standout scene occurring as Elmir is seated in the family living room, brawny and singlet-clad, flanked by her demure, headscarf-wearing relatives. “You’re lost”, says her grandmother Amira Rahman, not unkindly, as they discuss Elmir’s untraditional life.

The film doesn’t shy away from looking at Elmir’s controversial doping ban - in 2012, she won the 51-kilogram division at the Australian National Boxing Championships held in Hobart, Tasmania. However, after testing positive to banned diuretics furosemide and amiloride (she had taken a diuretic before a long haul flight from Ireland to Australia to reduce swelling in her ankles), she was stripped of this title. Elmir was slapped with a 12-month doping ban just 14 hours before flying to China for the women's world championships in April 2012. This disqualified her from competing at the London Olympics in 2012. As outlined in the documentary, upon her return to competition from the drug ban, the attention ASADA paid to Elmir was... extreme, to say the least.

Occasionally, van Loenen allows her subjects to mug for the camera, which is distracting. But van Loenen is also there when Elmir is at her most vulnerable, particularly before and after fighting Nikhat Zareen in her opening bout of the AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan in 2016. “Losing is so lonely,” she says in a moment of quiet contemplation.

This documentary isn’t just about a female boxer hitting back against the stereotypes of her family, society and her sport, to prove she is the best in the world. The tagline to ‘Bam Bam’ is “Boxer. Woman. Muslim.” and Jemma van Loenen delivers on this promise with an impressively deep exploration of one woman’s complex identity.

FAST FACTS
RELEASE DATE: 12/12/2018
RUN TIME: 1h 1m
CAST: Bianca Elmir
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Jemma Van Loenen
PRODUCERS: Jemma Van Loenen
Phill Northwood
SCORE: Marcos Gil
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