On the Ropes

Institute History

  • 1999 Sundance Film Festival


On the Ropes is an engrossing, emotionally charged film about a year in the life of three boxers where the stakes are higher than usual. More compelling than fiction, we see and feel in this film what it takes to make it, not just in the ring, but in life while teetering on the poverty line.
By selecting three fighters from the same neighborhood gym where Mike Tyson trained, filmmakers Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen make each story gripping and completely unique. Noel, still a teenager, lacks the necessary confidence but has a promising future; George is a rising star who feels intense pressure now that he’s making the leap to the professional circuit; and Tyrene, a very determined young woman, realizes her family life is getting in the way of her dream and the judicial system is stacked against her. Tying the film together is a trainer named Harry, a fixture at the gym, whose longstanding dedication to his fighters stems from a tumultuous past he wants finally to put to rest. As the film’s centerpiece, the gym provides a sense of community and is an integral part of the development of those growing up in the neighborhood.
On the Ropes contains extraordinary footage of pivotal moments in each of these people’s lives. The film is gracefully edited, mixing moments from the boxers’ private lives with those depicting their burgeoning careers. Always respectful, yet intimate and involving, On the Ropes shows what it takes to fight your way out.

Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen, Directors
Nanette Burstein studied film at NYU, where she completed an award-winning short, Ann’s Portrait. She has written and edited several documentaries, including In the Name of the Emperor; the Emmy Award-winning Before
You Go; and Defending Our Daughters. In 1996 she was nominated for a CableACE writing award, and in 1997 she won an Emmy for producing a piece about Richard Foreman. In 1996 Brett Morgan completed his first feature documentary, Ollie’s Army, about the grassroots support behind Oliver North’s Senate campaign. Widely screened, the film received awards from the San Francisco Film Festival, IDA, and UFVA.

— Lisa Viola

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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