I had just graduated film school but the jobs weren't coming. As a passionate boxing fan, I decided to make a boxing documentary and went to gyms looking for a story. I met 21-year-old Shane and his was compelling.
A promising high-school baseball player, Shane was struck down with thyroid cancer. While he battled through the disease, he was left physically unable to pursue a career as a professional athlete. Not to be deterred from a life in sport, this headstrong adolescent had decided to follow his other dream of becoming a boxing manager.
Shane introduced me to Cem and I instantly saw something special. A bond that was as fraternal as it was professional. They weren’t associates they were brothers.
It was then I received news from my home in London that my own brother had been diagnosed with stage 4 testicular cancer. There was nothing I could do except, hope, pray and comfort him as best I could on Skype. For some reason, I found myself more and more drawn to Shane, Cem and their story. Their optimism, their trust of one another, their shared purpose and determination. I decided to film their journey in the build up to their professional debut.
I dug deeper into Cem and Shane’s background. In the wake of terrorist attacks in Germany, far-right anti-Islamic demonstrations were becoming commonplace. Germany had no longer felt like home to Cem, he’d been anxious to leave. Shane’s family had initially been resistant to his career. “What’s a good Jewish boy doing in boxing?” they’d asked. But Shane’s grandfather is a holocaust survivor and his family took Cem in as one of their own.
Then, one week before the fight, Cem told me he had received a call from Germany with grim news. His first trainer, Wolfgang, had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and had a month to live. When Cem’s father had abandoned his family, it had been Wolfgang that had encouraged him, nurtured him, made him the fighter he was today. Meanwhile, my own brother was scheduled to undergo a life-saving operation in London.
With the debut in 6 days, the stakes felt enormous. A first-time filmmaker, a first-time manager and a first-time boxer all fighting. Together.