Roberto Durán will forever be known as a fighter – both in the boxing ring and on behalf of the people of Panama.
It’s that story of an imperfect hero and his home country that drew British Sports documentarian Mat Hodgson to the legendary boxer, resulting in a new documentary that chronicles Duran’s career.
“I wanted something political, and this struck this duality of nation and sporting play,” said Hodgson, who spent four years working on the film.
The resulting movie, “I am Durán” will be released on June 4, distributed for digital download through Universal Pictures.
Hodgson was drawn to the story of Panamanian Durán, whose rise to fame and rollercoaster story parallels that of Panama’s political struggles.
Durán spent five decades boxing, with periods of success and defeat both in the ring and in life in politically unstable Panama. He held world lightweight, welterweight, light middleweight, middleweight and super middleweight titles during his career that spanned from 1968 to 2001, fighting to a 103-16 career record. He’s a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame and International Boxing Hall of Fame, and was voted best lightweight boxer of the 20th century by the Associated Press.
“We went to research, lots of interviews rather than books, and got on the streets and they all corroborated the idea with this hero, they needed a hero in these dark years,” Hodgson said.
The documentary features a star-studded cast of interviews, including Durán, Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Don King and Sugar Ray Leonard. The lengthy production schedule helped in gathering some of the interviews, but there was an added weight to the story.
“It speaks to the pull of Roberto Durán,” Hodgson said. “Picking up the phone, it felt like we’d get a little further.”
The documentary also features the last filmed interview with former dictator Manuel Noriega, who is built into a “haunting character” before his interview is revealed during the movie. Noriega died in May 2017 after serving nearly three decades in prison.
“It gives credibility on the political side aside from sports,” Hodgson said. “He was a world-renowned dictator and that was real spooky to be face-to-face with him.”
As the film has premiered, Hodgson is happy with the way it has been received, especially in Panama, where he was worried he might not do the story justice.
“I didn’t want to mess up their story, it’s a very complex story, no black and white, it’s muddled,” he said.
With new media platforms emerging regularly and thousands of pieces of content, there’s nearly endless competition for consumer attention. While there is space for puff pieces and base observational documentaries, Hodgson said he prefers to look toward stories with duality like Durán’s.
“There are a lot of sports documentaries out and that’s great and shows there’s an appetite and audience,” Hodgson said. “Consumers are probably getting spoiled right now. The standard has been raised, both in observational and rear-facing content.
As Hodgson works through the release of “I am Durán” and moves on to his next projects, he hopes he can continue to find a good intersection of sport and culture to ensure at least some people find his work interesting. He’s currently working on principal photography on a film about Manchester United legend Eric Cantona.
“You don’t need to be gimmicky,” he said. “You find your storytelling tone and you apply that to the work.”