REVERSAL Interview
by Mike Furches


This page was created on April 17, 2002
This page was last updated on May 22, 2005

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All across America, male and female athletes from elementary school through college are wrestling. The sport involves tens of thousands and is the most ancient of all Olympic sports. Many who have never been to a tournament or match have no idea of the intensity of this ancient sport. All through the fall and winter, gymnasiums across the country fill with competitors and their families. The intensity of one on one competition between equally matched and weighted individuals is almost unbearable.

Wrestlers prepare intensely and practice can last two or three hours and occur between two and five times a week for the younger athletes. For older wrestlers the training can run upwards of 6 hours or more a day, six days a week. Wrestling is not a casual, relaxing, sport, nor is it a sport for those afraid of intense one on one competition. Those who succeed have a strong sense of self-discipline. They discipline their physical bodies through strenuous exercise to give maximum strength and endurance, their diet for maximize energy and the optimal and ideal body weight, and their minds, learning both offensive and defensive moves during hours of practice from a variety of positions.

As technology has changed methods of learning have also changed over the years. From visual and live demonstrations of various moves and techniques to the availability of CD-ROM's where one can actually use a computer to learn moves and techniques from various angles.

There are numerous examples of wrestling in the Bible, from Jacob in Genesis to Paul's usage of wrestling in Ephesians. In Ephesians Paul, while describing the Armor of God and the battle we as Christians are involved in reminds us, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."

Paul knew of the dedication, commitment, and mentality it took to make a good and effective wrestler. That is one of the reasons he uses the illustration in this particular passage. One of the universal truths then and now is the fact that wrestling is a hand to hand form of combat. Each individual must be prepared to the fullest and understand that there is no way to win unless you eventually "get on the mat" against your opponent. We face a formidable opponent and the battle we wrestle against is the battle of letting others know the message of the gospel. Paul makes this clear in verse 19 and 20, "?.that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak."

Our battle is the same, the question is are we willing to make the same level of dedication for a battle that involves eternal decisions as athletes are for their trophies and medals that will eventually be destroyed by moths and rust. I think Paul would remind us, "It's Wrestling Time."

With this in mind I recently spent some time with the makers of the new movie Reversal to get a better understanding of their intent behind the making of the film plus to draw some comparisons that could be used in Christian application. The individuals I spent some time discussing the movie with was, Jimi Petula the Lead Actor, Writer, and Executive Producer, and Alan Vint the Director and Editor of the film.

Mike Furches - One of the things that impressed me most about the film Reversal was the technical style. The movie uses a different approach in that it uses a lot of soft lens effects as well as fades from scene to scene. What was the purpose of doing that?

Alan Vint - The choices I made in terms of style and execution were deliberate. This is a simple story and I chose to tell it simply. I could have used this as an audition for another job and cluttered up the movie with camera moves but it would have come at the expense of the most important aspect of the communal nature of the medium which is to engage the audience, to give them access to the characters so they can identify with them, become involved with their lives, and moved by their journey. I had long battles with my crew in regard to my approach and they all told me I was wrong, the Joe Blow would not get it, that I needed to heighten the drama, make the coach an evil force etc...... During the shooting of the film my key people turned against me and pretty much convinced Jimi that he had made a major mistake by hiring me as a director. It was a terrible time and a very long three weeks and by the end of the shoot my people lost faith in the film. I stayed on course throughout the making of it, and through post-production, never veering from the simple truth and believing with all my heart soul that real people, "Joe Blow" would "get it."

I knew that if I went this way that Hollywood would have no use for this finished product and that it would not lead to another job for me.

Anything can be viewed from an almost infinite number of perspectives. If we go to film school and look at this film from a purely technical point of view, then we can fill a boat with criticism. I was not interested in that perspective. My goal was the collective heart of people like you and I am very proud to have succeeded. Anything that would have interfered with that experience would have been counterproductive for me. So, I would hope the film be reviewed primarily from that experience you had while in the theater, from feeling you left with and not from a purely academic point of view which comes from the head, from pride, from vanity etc..... I am not asking to be excused for poor execution. If the film missed its mark then I would have failed but when women, in particular, who watch films with their hearts and not their heads (more so than men) have unanimously been moved, and everyone that has ever participated in the sport is moved, then I won, for that was my goal. I believe the ultimate value of film, or theater, is a communal experience that we relate to, or identify with, that moves us and has a value that we can take with us along the road of life...... this value goes back to the campfire in the simple form of story and evolved into mythology and theater (now film). That is the standard by which I would choose to be judged.... not in my control, but if I had a choice.... that would be it.

Mike Furches - Alan, could you also comment on the fades that were used in the film?

Alan Vint - Being limited on coverage and footage once we got back to Los Angeles- it was questionable whether we had a film - in fact, we didn't, we had to go back and shoot important scenes that we did not get to because of an abuse of time by the dp... and the rhythm of the film.... fades just seemed to work... a soft way of getting from scene to scene..... again, the important thing for me was emotional access from the audience.... if it were an action film.... different approach.

Mike Furches - One of the beautiful things about Reversal was the cinematography and the actual location could you say something about that?

Jimi Petulla - The location I think speaks for itself. We shot the film in Pennsylvania and the town Washington rolled out for us. We virtually had no art department. We got permission to use everything. The high schools, uniforms, all locations. I think it brings a good authentic look to the picture. The D. P. William Molina did a wonderful job and has everything to do with the look of the film.

Mike Furches - Alan, what was it like directing the Executive Producer, writer and star of the movie?

Alan Vint - Jimi came to me and asked me to write the script. He was a student of mine in an acting class. He saw me work with people who had never studied and trusted me completely. This is one of the main reasons we were able to work with kids who had never thought about acting in their life. I had a good career at one time and know the process of acting. Jimi knows this so his trust in me was 100%. The main difficulty was in not letting the technical aspects of making the film kill the innocence and beauty of what we created. This was a constant battle. So, to answer your question, Jimi was with me one hundred percent in regard to his performance. My job was to create and environment of trust that would allow the simple truth to happen and then capture it. My crew had different priorities and did not understand the delicate situation we were in, or appreciate it when it was in front of them.

Mike Furches - Jimi, this is basically your story. How true did you stay to real life in the making of Reversal?

Jimi Petulla - The story is true except for the last two scenes. Keep in mind my girlfriend just died, that of course was true. I was very lost during that time. That is why I walked away from the sport that I loved so much. My dad and I never had any kind of a resolution, until he watched this movie some weeks ago. The kitchen scene and the scene at the airport I added . My father after the film came up to me crying and said, "For 20 years I wanted to tell you exactly what you just said on that screen in front of me. I can't believe my eyes." I wrote the scenes off of events I knew happened in my father's life, like his dad never seeing him wrestle and he was a state champion, and like the abusive alcoholic parents my mother had that constantly beat her, once to the point where she could have died.

That was actually the first time my father told me he loved me, at the screening of the film, not at an airport like I wanted in my heart all those years and he wanted in his heart I come to find all those years. As Alan puts it we did the airport scene in the lobby of the theater that night. So no matter what happens with this film Mike, I HAVE WON! No one, not even Hollywood can ever take that away from me. It has now created a new bond with me and my father that will last our life time. I would take that over a check for 5 million for the film. I feel lucky and thank God for the opportunity. The real ending was that I basically I ran away to my uncle Larry's and was lost and didn't talk to my father for 5 years till I showed up on Christmas Eve on his door step 5 years later.

Mike Furches - Jimi, wrestling is the backdrop for the love story between Leon and his dad, a father and a son. I also know that the story addresses some issues related to wrestling. Can you tell us of your thoughts on the sport of wrestling and of any of life's analogies that go with it?

Jimi Petulla - Wrestling is a wonderful sport and has made me the person that I am today. All the work and sacrifice that I had at an early age has helped me succeed in my life in business, my family everything. It also gave me a time as a kid and a bond with my father that some kids will never know or have. Mike Furches - Jimi & Alan, I don't know if you guys realize this or not but the Bible uses analogies of wrestling quite a bit through out. Why do you think that is and what lessons do you think there are that people can learn from wrestling?

Jimi Petulla - I had no idea of that. I imagine that the discipline, will power to not eat that junk food, or to go without is okay. Maybe also the one on one sports aspect.

Alan Vint - In regard to the sport of wrestling - it is not a team sport and thus teaches the participants the lesson of individual responsibility for your actions. Most sports require discipline but in wrestling there are no excuses.

Mike Furches - The two of you have obviously made the effort to make a movie that can reach out to all audiences, including children, while at the same time address adult issues and reach adult audiences. Can you tell why you felt that process was important?

Alan Vint - In the original script that Jimi wrote, the father was harsher - they told Jimi that he needed this to drive the story. When Jimi asked me to direct the film, we did a rewrite which I did not take credit for.... but I told him two things: one, honor the sport and the people in it; two, if we changed the script so that the father was not evil and was clearly operating out of love that I would do it. In making these changes, we actually changed the theme and message of the film. To me, it is about the great lesson of "letting go." If you truly love something, let it go and if it is "yours" it will come back. This becomes very important because this theme is understood by the heart and spans time, is eternal, and appeals to children and adults, alike.

Jimi Petulla - It was important for me and Alan to hit on the father-son love story aspect. Alan knew through our working together and being friends that my father loved me and wanted to do the right thing. As Alan has put it. "Sometimes love blinds us. And we do things out of love that are not right." I think any other director would have had a dad that you hated that lived his life solely and selfishly through his for selfish reasons. My father wanted to give me a education. With no money the only hope of that was wrestling. I happened to be good at it was something that he could help me with being my coach.

Mike Furches - One of the areas you are not afraid to address in the movie are spiritual ones. For example we see prayer in the movie, the relationship between a father and a son, a father who chooses to remain married as opposed to divorcing his wife, Leone's mother praying, death, the consequences of substance abuse and numerous others. Were there specific moral influences you were trying to get across in the film?

Alan Vint - It was very important to me that the father was operating out of love. The story I told Jimi that I was interested in was one where a father almost killed his son out of good intentions. In love there is always a blind spot - we can mean well and destroy the things we love the most. It takes tremendous courage to see ourselves, our mistakes, to honor the souls of our children and let them go into the world.... that is the greatest love of all....

Jimi Petulla - We wanted to send an honest message across. This is how my parents raised us. My mother and father both raised us Catholic. We went to church every Sunday. My mom would beat the kids then go to confession and ask for forgiveness. Then she would do the same thing the next week. My father didn't see this. He was at work every minute of every day. My mom would treat him terribly but he would never leave her no matter what. They are still married after almost 50 years. My father took vows and finishing what you start very seriously. That is probably why I work so hard to achieve things in my life. He is also a generous man. He is the first to open his wallet , even if he doesn't have a dime in it.

Mike Furches - The wrestling sequences in the movie and the sport were portrayed in the most realistic way of any movie I have ever seen. Olympic Gold medal winner Kendall Cross told me right after the screening, "This is a great movie, one that every wrestler and their father should see. It portrayed wrestling the way it really is, better than any movie I have ever seen." You have been getting quite a few comments like that from those that are in the wrestling community. Any other comments you would like to share and how important was it to portray wrestling in a way that would be supported to this extent by those in the wrestling community?

Alan Vint - Another major battle. My producer, line producer, dp, and first assistant director fought me on this one, too. They all told me it had to be choreographed, story-boarded, shot by shot. I told them to put the camera on the floor and that I would get what I needed, then cut it together later. Major war on this one that lasted throughout the entire shoot. Poor Jimi, his first time through and they all told him I was ruining his film and that it would never work..... so yes, it was very important to me that the wrestling be authentic, that every wrestler in the world who saw this film would say, " That is the truth."

Jimi Petulla - The wrestling I think speaks for itself. We used the real deal on that one. The main message we want the wrestling community to know is that we all know that we went through things in terms of losing weight in this sport. I would like to use this as an education, to wrestlers and parents and coaches. Frankly more the wrestlers than parents, although most people who see the film will blame dad. I know from my own experience, that my dad didn't really know the tactics I would take to make weight. His concern was just make weight. If you say your going to wrestle at a weight do it or go to another weight class. The reality is it was my choice. I knew I couldn't win the title at the next weight so I wanted to win which meant drop a weight. It meant cheating and taking a laxative. We don't want to bash wrestling here, we want to make awareness that it did go to far. As Kendall put it "It brings up our dirty little secret, and makes me realize we were going about it all wrong". Danny Hodge came up to me in tears crying at the later show that night. He thanked me for honoring the sport and making awareness to people and parents. He loved the film. Also Kendall said he saw his life story on the screen. Kenny Monday also thanked me and said he will endorse the film and do anything he can to help. We now have 5 gold medal winners, an academy award winning writer and scores of people that are helping push the film. Don't know what it will ad up to but it feels nice.

Mike Furches - You have made an independent film as opposed to going through a studio. Why did you do this and what are the benefits and negatives of this?

Jimi Petulla - The reason I made the film is because I knew Hollywood wouldn't make a film like this, nor give me an acting role. My company allowed me the financial resources to do it. It's a huge risk. But I'm a risk taker. The benefits of course are that I'm in control, it's my baby. The only real negative is I don't have the backing financially of a major studio's unlimited dollars. I'm not afraid to distribute the movie myself. In fact we have 5 major theater chains that have seen the film and will give me their screens. We have a data base of over 10,000 people that just in the last 4 months are on the waiting list for DVD/video when we are ready. It just means a lot of work, a slower process and you still don't know what will happen. There are times I want to cry I am so busy. There are times,(most), that I thank God for the opportunity.

Mike Furches - If you had to identify two things related to the movie that you wanted to accomplish what would they be?

Jimi Petulla - To spend quality time with your kids. Love your family, hug your wife, call your dad from time to time. I see my dad maybe once every 2 to 3 years. That's terrible. Learn from our mistakes. Break the chain. I have a 9 year old Corey and a 7 year old Brandon. I tell them everyday I love them as I do my wife Alma. I do things they want to do, not just what I want to do. I never had the closeness with my father. We had one thing. Wrestling. That was our life. That was how we became close.

Mike Furches - Is there anything you would want people to know about Reversal?

Jimi Petulla - Reversal is ultimately a father-son love story. Wrestling is just the back drop. It could be any sport. It could be horseback riding. I think the big message here is that we have to let our kids do what they want in their hearts not ours.

God Bless,
Mike Furches
Luke 15

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Reversal © 2002 Jimi Petulla Productions . All Rights Reserved.