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As the Ashland Film Festival bounces back, it (re)presents the heroic journey of an athlete

Boxing phenom Clarissa "T-Rex" Shields is the subject of a documentary being screened at AIFF's "Wednesdays at the Movies."
Boxing phenom Clarissa "T-Rex" Shields is the subject of a documentary being screened at AIFF's "Wednesdays at the Movies."

The Ashland Independent Film Festival has almost reached its fundraising goal through the "Out of the Ashes" campaign to reboot for 2024. While they sort through submissions for the October festival, they're offering "Wednesday at the Movies."

Vanessa Finney: Jim, AIFF is producing other events well before the main festival in October. Tell us about the "Wednesday at the Movies" series.

Jim Fredericks: Yes, we have a boutique theater within our space that can see upwards of 60 people. And we want to invite people in. We also want to invite people to the varsity, a great partner of ours during the film festival and beyond. So some of these films will be screened at the varsity and some of them will be screened in our own film center. And we want to do a combination of things - sort of dipping into the archives from some of the great films that have been shown during the course of the film festival. And also connect with other community partners and use their connections and show films that maybe resonate with other community members as well as AIFF. And we want it to be a nice membership benefit to come by and check out a film on a Wednesday night. Oftentimes we're going to have people talking about the films when they come and have some discussion. So come and listen, maybe talk to a director or talk to some other folks who have been involved in the film itself.

VF: And the first in the series will be the documentary T-Rex. Drea, you co-directed this film. Why don’t you give us a synopsis?

Drea Cooper: Yeah, so T rex is a coming of age story about the boxing phenom Clarissa Shields who, at the young age of 17 years old, made history. She became the first woman to win Olympic gold in women's boxing at the 2012 London Olympics where Women's Boxing was first held in 2012.

VF: Gary, you were a producer on T-Rex. Why do you think this movie has resonated as much as it has?

Gary Kout: What I love about T-Rex is it's really an evergreen story. So even though the specifics of it took place over 10 years ago, I think it's a story that continues to be inspirational and contemporary. And at the same time, it's just an incredibly well made film. It's so watchable, and has such heart and technique. And I mean, it's a true example of the craft of documentary filmmaking, if I may say so.

VF: Drea, any final words?

DC: Thank you. Yeah, I mean, I think what's really special about the film and about Claressa is that this is an archetypal, heroic sports story. And most stories stop at the point of which, you know, you win the medal, or you get the belt. But in the case of Claressa, while she makes history at the Olympics, it's really that third act: she has to come home and see if the dreams come true. And as we all know - easier said than done, right? She has to put one foot in front of the other and navigate uncharted territory. You know, are there sponsorships available for a young woman of color who's a boxer, those sponsorships and endorsement deals for Olympians come easy to the gymnast or the track and field star, but for a boxer, and for a female boxer? Those are harder to come by. And so, we get to see how she navigates that and how she manages that kind of uncharted territory as a young girl.

This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Vanessa Finney hosts All Things Considered on JPR and produces My Better Half, a podcast and Jefferson Exchange segment that explores how people are thriving in the second half of their lives.