When I initially read about Jesselyn Silva, known as “JessZilla,” the ambitious young boxer featured in this film, I loved the idea of profiling a young girl’s journey in a male-dominated combat sport.
It’s no secret that women’s boxing has nowhere near the participants — or the money, or the audience — that men’s boxing has. Broadcasters of the sport generally feature men; the Amateur International Boxing Association has gone so far as to encourage women to box in skirts. The middleweight Olympic champion boxer, Claressa Shields of Flint, Mich., reached the sport’s apogee and still struggles to make herself “marketable” to sponsors that help translate athletic success to financial reward. There simply is less demand, it seems, to watch girls who like to fight.
But Jesselyn boxes because she genuinely loves the sport. She’s only 10, and even though she says she’s dealt with unsupportive schoolmates, she has her eyes on the Olympics. Her odds are decent — it’s rare for girls to start boxing so young. Though more sign up with age, for now, she mostly spars with boys.
But beyond considering the challenges that Jesselyn will face navigating her way through a sport where her presence will generally be an anomaly, I was captivated by the dynamic between her and her father, Pedro. As a filmmaker, I often see profiles of high achieving kids in sports that leave me wondering where their parents fit in all this. When I met them, I immediately understood that Pedro is not the kind of dad who is pushing his daughter to do something she isn’t interested in and, instead, is following his daughter’s lead, supporting her as best he can. Given that this is a film about boxing, I felt it was essential to create a nuanced portrait of their family and to ward off superficial criticisms like, “How could a man let his cute little girl do such a violent sport?”
I thought it was fascinating, for example, that when Pedro says in the film that he wants his daughter’s boxing to end at a certain age, she begins arguing with him about the success she’s looking to have. All families navigate choices like these to some extent. It was clear to me that Jesselyn’s drive was fueled by the love and support of her father. It was also obvious that Pedro is a huge part of Jesselyn’s story, but in no way resembles those hovering “helicopter parents” we hear so much about today.
Furthermore I'd like to add that when we filmed Jesselyn on the day her coach Hez was present, she showed up with a bit of a headache. I felt it was important to include this in the film as it was clear in her training footage that she was not 100%. If Jesselyn is to compete on an Olympic level, she will have good days and bad ones. That is all part of the journey and I wanted to acknowledge that at 10 years old, she understands this and still gives it her best.
I hope the end result is a work that is as much about girls breaking athletic barriers as parents fostering drive in their children — encouraging them to do what they love, and to do their best.
Emily sheskin - director
Emily Sheskin is a director who was recently featured in Vimeo’s “10 Groundbreaking Women in Film to Watch in 2017.” Her short films have been featured at festivals across the United States and abroad, such as but not limited to HotDocs, Big Sky, and the Tacoma Film Festival.
She holds a BFA from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and is a member of New York Women in Film & Television, The Film Shop, and IFP. You can learn more about her at emilysheskin.com
Paul yee - director of photography
Paul Yee is a cinematographer based in New York City. He recently lensed The Fits (Venice 2015, Sundance 2016), Anna Holmer’s acclaimed debut feature, that the New York Times describes as “a dreamy, beautifully syncopated coming-of-age tale.”
Paul has also shot short-form documentaries for the Whitney Museum, MOMA, and the New Museum and worked on a variety of commercial projects for clients such as L’Oreal, DIRECTV, AARP, the New York Times, and Clear Channel. He is an avid cook and food photographer, which has led him to direct and shoot for Barilla, Sabra, and Campbell’s.
ben kainz - producer
Ben Kainz is a Producer with years of experience in commercial production. He’s worked on a multi-faceted set of projects ranging from broadcast television programs to virtual reality commercials to independent documentaries. His most recent feature, Ovum, was nominated and won at the Boston International Film Festival, Manhattan Film Festival, and Big Apple Film Festival.
He holds a BA from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.
We are proud to have premiered Jesselyn's story through the New York Times' OpDocs and hope to have more information as far as screening the film at festivals soon.
From April 28, 2017 - May 4, 2017 "Girl Boxer" will screen at the IFC Center in New York City before feature films. To read the press release, click here.
For general questions about the Film:
JessZillaTheFilm [at] gmail dot com
For questions about getting involved or helping fund the feature film contact Ben Kainz:
bkainz23 [at] gmail dot com