This is a guest post by Jeff Unay, who directed, produced and shot The Cage Fighter, the new documentary feature film about a middle-aged MMA fighter who risks everything to return to the ring. We asked Jeff if there was one image from any point in the making of The Cage Fighter that he loved most. Below is the photo he gave us, along with his written response.
Friday, Feb. 2nd, marked the theatrical and VOD release of our film The Cage Fighter. This weekend is also big as we open in our hometown of Seattle at the Northwest Film Forum. My personal journey to make this film is best summed up in this one photo of my beautiful wife, Diana, taken in April 2015. It’s one of my favorites because it captured one of the most important moments in our life.
We had just received our first grant, the TFI/ESPN Prize, and we were absolutely over the moon about it! We were invited to attend the TFI Network in NYC (during the Tribeca film festival) to pitch our work-in-progress film at roundtable meetings with distributors, potential collaborators and other film institutes in hopes of getting on their radar. At this point I had already shot for 1.5 years, but this was the first time I had ever pitched the project to anyone. Few outside of my family knew that I had aspirations to make a feature-length “movie,” as I was working full time at a tech company in Seattle, and as we raised our three young boys.
I was surprised by all the great responses and encouragement we received about our pitch during our first day at TFI Network. Later that evening, Diana flew into NYC to show her support. As soon as she arrived, I went on and on about all the interesting people, super talented filmmakers, fancy distribution companies and programmers of big film festivals. It was such an exciting time.
Diana knew all this hoopla inevitably meant we had to make some big decisions about our future, decisions that would affect our entire family for the next few years. If I was going to make this big mound of random verité footage into a “real thing,” it was going to require much more of my time and effort. We discussed what would happen if I had to take time off from my job to finish shooting and raising money for the project. We sat in our hotel that day and began devising a family plan. Diana mapped out when we would have enough in our savings to allow me to take time off. This also meant that her career plans were going to be impacted in a major way. She was running her own jewelry organizer product line business, making an income which was great in addition to mine, but it wasn’t going to be enough to support our entire family. She loved the small business she’d started from scratch.
When I took this photo in our NYC hotel room that day, it was the moment Diana popped open her laptop and began looking for a new job. She was about to change her career goals for me and this film. It’s so crazy to think back on that day because we had absolutely no idea what the future would hold and the many risky decisions still ahead of us. We believed in the film and put everything we had in it.
Years later, Diana is enjoying and excelling at her job as a Marketing Director at a really great company. We have an amazing US distributor in IFC Films | Sundance Selects. I’m back to my full-time job as a digital artist which I couldn’t love more. The kids are happier than ever, especially since we gained guardianship of my 13-year old goddaughter from Louisiana who now lives with us. I’m getting a chance to write in my spare time which I thoroughly enjoy AND, last but not least, The Cage Fighter is in release!
Life is still pretty crazy, but I know how lucky I am to have Diana in my life. I look at this photo of her from time to time and it always hits me pretty hard. It reminds me of what sacrifice means. What it means to love someone unconditionally. It reminds me of all the ups and downs we’ve been through since I started this project 4.5 years ago and how much we’ve grown. Now that the film is finally completed, the theatrical rollout is all set, VOD is locked in, I’m overcome with pure gratitude. We did it, Di. We actually did it!
The Cage Fighter is now playing in theaters in NYC at the IFC Center and in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinelounge – Sunset. The film opens in Seattle at the Northwest Film Forum on Feb 8th. It’s available nationwide on VOD. Follow the film on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and www.ifcfilms.com. The film was made in association with Cinereach, receiving grant support and a loan.