Champ: The Steve Mitchell Story is one of the few films you’ll ever see that leaves you both uplifted and heartbroken. The documentary by Dallas filmmaker Mark Birnbaum (The Big Buy, Stop the Presses), focuses on Steve Mitchell, an Italy, Texas, man claiming to be the real life Rocky.
It’s hard to argue with that claim. While running an errand for his mother on his bike, the 7-year-old Steve was hit by a car doing 70. A long recovery, supervised by his tough-as-nails father, ensued as Steve relearned how to walk, talk and generally function as a person. Along the way, his father trained him as a boxer, propelling him to a slew of Golden Gloves victories and a full trophy case.
It’s one of those stories that if a fiction writer had come up with it, no one would have bought it — too inspiring for its own good. But seeing as it really did happen, Steve begins a crusade to have his story told, first with a self-published book and later, he hopes, with a feature film. During the 90 minute doc we follow Steve in his quest to secure interest in his story as he meets with agents, writers and producers. When most of us would have given up after a few no’s, Steve crusades on, unable to even consider defeat. (Going through what he went through as a kid will do that for you.)
Steve’s drive speaks to the YouTube generation’s “if the cameras didn’t capture it, it didn’t happen” mentality, in which only visual proof can lead to significance. The film’s subject is celebrity obsessed as he points out signed pictures of Bill Clinton and Chuck Norris at his mother’s cafe and regales us with his late-night meeting with a supposedly still-living Elvis. Isn’t he at least as interesting as them?
And so it’s with mixed feelings that the film comes to a close as Steve earns at least a piece of the recognition he’s looking for. Birnbaum shows compassion for his subject and journalist’s desire to get the whole story as he follows Steve around to his multiple janitorial jobs, interviewing half of Ellis County in the process. We know as viewers that the odds are long that Steve will one day sit in a darkened theater and watch as Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp portrays him on the big screen. Yet in watching his quest, we are inspired by a man who doesn’t know what it means to give up.
Champ: The Steve Mitchell Story screens Thursday at 8:45 p.m.
ALSO THURSDAY: Don’t miss Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a shot-by-shot re-creation of the 1981classic produced by a trio of friends over a 7-year period. Chris Strompolos, who portrays our hero in the film, will be in attendance when it screens at 7 p.m.