Billy Corben: Raw, Dangerous and Real

A post I wrote for LinkedIn
Pete Turner

Break It Down Show Host, Professional Speaker and Cultural Consultant.–What’s your “Ground Truth?”

This week’s, Break It Down Show, features one of my favorite storytellers, Director Billy Corben.  Billy and his partners at Rakontur are masters at making documentaries that rivet us.  Billy has found formulas for telling incredible stories, and opening up people who simply aren’t supposed to talk. Mix in the sexy, sweaty, coke dusted hues of SoFla and we’re all living vicariously through Billy’s subjects.  He’s made documentaries cool, sexy and dangerous.

If Ken Burns uses Tom Hanks’ voice and the souls of long dead men to grab you; Billy’s protagonist is that devil we all have on our shoulder. It’s so much fun watching his subjects pick life in the fast lane, while we wait for the train wreck that follows.  All of his movies are a flume ride, we know everyone is going to get soaked in the end, but oh what a ride.

Beyond the thrills Billy’s documentaries provide, he has a master’s touch at getting his subjects to trust him. Is there a more tightly knit group than the 500 people that live in Everglades City, FL? In, his film, “Square Grouper: The Godfather of Ganja,” Billy easily gets these people to open up and share their story. Then he makes them utterly fascinating. He creates an urge in all of us to have been in Everglades City, or in Miami back in the day.

He also successfully translates the culture of his subjects. In a way, Billy is giving us an ethnography in his films…he makes us see what it’s like to be a smuggler, a cracker, an NFL player, or most recently, a backyard bare knuckle boxer/promoter. I understand someone like DaDa 5000 and his neighbors, because Billy can show us their “ground truth.”

In his movie, Dawg Fight, DaDa 5000 is a man who organizes a group of bare knuckle brawlers who willingly enter the ring in unsanctioned fights for small purses.  The movie is best described as, raw, urban and dangerous. The movie was so real, movie studios were afraid to distribute it; that’s my kind of documentary. West Perrine, the setting, is about 20 mins from downtown Miami, and not the kind of place people with things to lose want to hang.

Yet, we’re drawn into DaDa’s world and we get why these young men fight. We watch and wait for the inevitable with our hands over our eyes. Billy reveals just how hard life is for the people of West Perrine. He illustrates how the fights unite the area. We see DaDa provide something other than despair for the community. The success of his fights even provides a path for the best to have a chance at fighting at a higher level. It may be a non-traditional path, but it’s the only one residents of West Perrine can see. They love and I love what DaDa does for his fighters…I love what Billy does for DaDa.

Billy makes us care about; West Perrine, Everglades City, a hit man and even about sexual assault. That’s someone who knows a great story and tells it without, “screwing it up.”

From a cultural aspect, the best note of Dawg Fight is DaDa preparing for a sanctioned fight. While being briefed before the weigh-in he’s pulled aside by a Florida fight official who warns DaDa that backyard fighting it illegal and dangerous. His message is clear, if the backyard fights continue, someone is going to jail, or going to get hurt. What that official doesn’t realize is, that’s always true in West Perrine; they’d call that life.  The life is what they are fighting to escape even it’s just for 3 rounds.

Thanks for what you do Billy. Your work moves all of us…and for some it moves us to do more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: