The Beauty of The Fight

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I found out yesterday that one of my instructors at Seattle Central recently finished working on a feature length film and is now in the promotion stage. My teacher, Rick Clark, worked as a script consultant for a project entitled Beauty of The Fight, a documentary on life in the barrios of Panama, and the beauty that can thrive beneath a desolate surface. The film is directed by John Urbano, a commercial photographer turned cinematographer, who was inspired by the culture and stories of the Panamanian people he met during his travels. I haven’t seen the film yet, but in the hopes that my teacher might randomly stumble upon this post, I’m gonna go ahead and say it’s awesome! Actually, I checked out the trailer and it like a pretty worthwhile viewing, especially from a cinematography standpoint. If you’d like more information, check out the official site at


12 responses to “The Beauty of The Fight

  1. I like how your blog is laid out I have bookmark this look forward to seeing more.

  2. After reviewing his documentary, I have several comments to his work. As a Panamanian, I feel I should make several corrections to his point of view and general information presented:

    Geographic confusion:
    He misplaces San Felipe and Santa Ana constantly with Barraza and Chorrillo. They are definite and very separate areas. San Felipe and Santa Ana are what is called the old quarter (Casco Viejo) which has a UNESCO world heritage protection and is being developed since 1998 by both government and private investors. It has been one of the few examples where win- win situations have been looked for. There are several social programs ranging from the best jazz school in the region (where students from all over poor areas become Berkley material) to programs where local women get trained in hotel skills,personal self esteem and household administration.

    I noticed John Urbano kept showing photos of San Felipe and even Terraplen which is also part of Casco Viejo, saying it was Barraza, which is far away from reality.

    Historic and social confusions:

    The reason why Barraza and Chorrillo are poor isn’t the USA invasion. They where poor way before that, as a result of the lack of long term policy in our Latin- style government. For ages, Barraza and Chorrillo have been political cash cows where polititians dont invest in education out of their own interest.

    Panama used to have back in the 50’s one of the best educations in Latin America. Our scholars would compare easily with USA and Europe. Through bad politics, today, it is a fact that our education system has been rank next to Haiti. This is the true story of all poor people in Panama, including Barraza and Chorrillo. I feel a unique opportunity was lost to tell the right story: politicians driving their last model cars around giving away chickens to buy their votes while not investing in education. Very convenient for them, and a shame Urbano didn’t get to the root of the system and wen’t for the easy route of pushing the normal guilt buttons on Americans. As a Panamanian, I feel ashamed of our govermental history. My father came from San Felipe back in the 50’s so I know exactly how it used to be.

    People in Barraza dont own their homes. And thanks to a Haiti-like educational system, our government have robbed them of their legitimate chance to stand up by themselves and make a decent living. If only the government (who own a lot of land in Barraza, by the way) took an interest in re building well done social housing, the way it has already been done in San Felipe and Santa Ana, the neighborhood at least would have started to see the light.

    He mentions the buildings mysteriously get burned. There is no mystery here. Those houses need only the wind to blow to fall apart. In some of them you can see about 20 families living together. The electrical system was never made to support such a load. Therefore, when there is a short circuit, many times caused by Panama’s strong rains, the houses burn fast to the ground.

    The Ministry of Housing does its best to relocate them and shelter them. It is true they should do more to provide decent and well managed low income housing, as it has been sucessful in Santa Ana and San Felipe already. However, the paternalistic society created by 20 years of dictatorship (from which Noriega was a dark episode) has made people believe the government should give them house for free, no obligations attached. And food. And a job.

    All what governments need to provide are: good education, good legal system, opportunities to grow. Good health system. And yes, the Panamanian government has failed to provide all of this. And it has nothing to do with the Invasion.

    When the Panama Invasion happened, there where several factors involved. The reason why Chorrillo was attacked was because it was the place where the headquarters where standing. By then, Panamanians (including myself and my family) had already gone through a severe economic crisis. Back then, no middle class worker received salary. Sort of what is happening in venezuela now. Banks had frozen the accounts. So people basically functioned trading things: shoes vs food. With a bit of research, Mr. Urbano would have found that the “missing persons” during the dictatorship time where probably far more than what he quotes was the invasion count of dead people. There where people raped, dismembered, taken their heads off literally, by order of the military and especially of Noriega whom in this film he portrays as a nostalgic resident of Chorrillo.

    Noriega used people of Chorrillo in his battalions. Their goal was to go after un armed citizens who where simply protesting with white clothes at the street. Many died…. on our side. Injured, disapeared. Noriega used Barraza and Chorrillo, he never cared for it. Never did anything for it.

    Testimonies also point to the fact that at that point, a group of Panamanians carried the voice to the USA to help. For their own interest or not, and here there might be forever a debate, it was done. Without it, Panama would have gone straight into civil war, the same way that Nicaragua, Guatemala and so many other countries in the region had gone into…. and never come out of. Maybe it wasn’t the best way, but for sure we are not Nicaragua today nor Guatemala.

    I think it was irresponsible from Urbano to take the Noriega issue so lightly.

    Sociologically speaking, I believe he also missed the true story of Barraza: the story of those who are really fighting to live a good life and a decent business. Every day, at 6 a.m. you see thousands of good people taking taxis and buses to work. Fighting poverty with work and trying to get their kids educated… somehow. People like Ismael Laguna, who are illed now but where glories to Panama and the world should have been made an example, a point to stop and meditate. People in Barraza and Chorrillo excel when opportunity arrives along with education. And yes, they do crave for love and attention. But Panama has given them only free chicken and a condemned house full of ticks, rats, mold, unsafe water, no sewer and unsafe electricity.

    Urbano seemed to have lost perspective on all sides with his work. I do admire his visual sensitivity. However, he is not a journalist and it shows. Research was light on all sides and the biggest loss was that the true story wasn’t told: poverty is due to lack of education and opportunities, due to careless governments (one after the other), and the free chicken politics.

    And the ray of hope, of light, are all these people, who by the way are the majority, waking up every day and trying to make their life walking the good walk. The story of ngo’s that take kids at risk and work with them daily.

    That is the true beauty of the fight. And the true horror of Latin American politics would be uncovered at the same time.

    On a last note I want to emphasize that no one is being thrown out of Barraza and Chorrillo. There is no private investment there whatsoever. Mr. Urbano has confused areas completely. I do agree more should be done in the way of social housing. In San Felipe, where people have been relocated from highly unsafe buildings, they’ve been either placed at restored apartments managed by the government or moved to another neighborhood and paid for it. Historically, the occupants of these buildings where squatters which where put there by the dictatorship back in the 70’s when they decided to “change” the rental law into a way that made it impossible for a landlord to take action on a tenant that just didn’t pay his rent… The landlord still had the obligation of keeping the house safe and clean, but had no instrument to kick the upaying tenant out. As a result, most houses where abandoned to the point where Mr. Urbano saw them. So again, it was all because of the Panamanian government.

    I hope my review has been constructive. It wasn’t my intent to criticize his point of view, but I felt it was important to correct some of his mistakes.

  3. This documentary seemed to me full of negative sencacionalism. It’s a point of view very truncated. John Urbano is using the social theme of the human misery to publicizing, misusing the voyeuristic side of the people to become famous. This documentary is a very good artistic performance but a total distorsion of the information on a journalistic point of view. How can he put two and two together like that? Gambling $100 with his camera operator? Please!
    This documentary brings nothing to the poor people he is talking about and will affect lots of people who have lost people during the dictatorship…

    • have you ever been to barraza and have you ever done anything for the people of panama? John Urbano did not do this film to become famous he did it to help the children of barazza and chorillo. mission accomplished……100% of the proceeds go help the children…..PLEASE! enough said. Scooter Randolph

  4. Director John Urbano’s and Script Consultant Rick Clark’s email exchange in response to Patrizia’s comment above, edited and posted by Rick Clark

    RICK: Thanks, Eli. I’m CCing this email to Beauty of the Fight Director and Photographer John Urbano as well.

    I’m not sure that Patrizia knows what she’s talking about as regards the locations, since the people in the film themselves, all of them, know where they live and aren’t going to pretend they live elsewhere. However, there may indeed be a few shots that include more than El Chorrillo and Barraza.

    John is in Panama now, for at least two showings of BOTF that he set up there to bring the film full circle. I’m sure that if anyone else is concerned about facts in the film, they’ll be sure talk to him. However, I did forward your email with the link telling him he’d better read the women’s response and check her claims with the hundreds of people he’s talking to there, even as I write—people who live there and have lived there all their lives.

    I’d say hers is a political, possibly financial, concern. Many Panamanians have viewed the film and none of them have taken this angle.

    The problem with making a “document” that doesn’t seek to take sides, doesn’t try to make political points, that isn’t even “rhetorically” organized (it is, but not in any preconceived way), is that viewers expect a fact-driven, politically-biased, rhetorically-constructed film. This is what they think when they hear the word “documentary.” Or they think that if a filmmaker is going to make a film about a poor neighborhood in Panama he’s going to point a finger at a culpable party (Patrizia points her finger at the government). But there are many other kinds of documentaries out there besides the factual, delving, political kind.

    As for facts, John shot the folks of Barraza and El Chorrillo amidst their lives as they were living them. These are not actors. Who they are, what they do, how they act is what the viewer gets.

    Is this a case of reality and truth are “too liberal”? Is the woman aware that all proceeds go to supporting the people of Barraza and Chorrillo? I wonder if she’s got a program for housing or educating the poor.

    John Urbano made the film he set out to make, not a film that someone else wanted him to make.

    Still, it’s interesting to hear this woman’s views. Actually, while I was doing research on the “global” causes of the gradual destruction of these neighborhoods, I read a well documented doctoral dissertation whose thesis claims, very convincingly, that the US and other countries are promoting economic development in Panama in order to maintain political control of the Canal after the US turning legal control of it over to the Panamanian government in 1979—yet another point of view. I’m sure there are other points of view out there too.

    JOHN: Yup. The comment was also sent to me by the person who wrote it.

    There were 150 screaming people and hand shakes and one person who was pissed off.

    Gotta smile and keep on rolling. Everyone loved it but one person!

    I held the girl’s hand tonight who lost her home at the opening. (Karina) I saw her house burning with my own eyes. She told her story.

    It’s easy to write a review; try making a film….

    Tonight, showing the Beauty of the Fight in Panama, was the best night of my life.

    Fifteen minutes into the film, Laguna’s part came on where he says, “I fought in France six times, Brazil three times….” The entire place stood up, clapping, screaming, whistling, etc. The MAYOR of Panama City sat right next to me. He was in awe. Ismael Laguna himself, sitting in the front row in between Reynaldo and Mus (Moose), stood up and held his fists high in the air. Everyone was going nuts.

    The place was glowing with love.

 Then, when the movie ended, I went up with Karina. I thanked everyone for coming and spending 69 minutes in Barraza and El Chorrillo. I thanked the crew; then I called Mus, Laguna, the little girl on the cover of the book (we found her) and the two teachers up on stage to join Karina and me. I looked at everyone and said, “During the making of this film and after the making of this film, the question that I hear over and over again is why did you make this film, why are you making this film?” I turned to Karina and the group and said, “This is my reason right here.” People were crying, clapping, etc. I went to every person on stage and hugged them. The teacher grabbed the mic and said, “God bless John Urbano for what you did for me and my children in this neighborhood.” She was crying, and holding my hand so tight, and just kept saying thank you over and over again….

    At the end, the mayor came up and congratulated me on the work. He said it was absolutely amazing and could appreciate all the hard work that went into telling this story. The cable channel down here wants to run it on TV (regular). It was just outstanding. Galleries want to do exhibitions. A guy that signs international art documentaries wants to talk distribution. It goes on and on.

    We sold a TON of books. People were buying three and four at a time. I signed about 20 books. We sold the cover photo for 1400 bucks. We had a silent auction on the prints and almost all of them sold. 

I have a BOTF book where all the guests signed the last page. It’s priceless.

    But for me, something that I’ll treasure forever is that Karina signed her page in the book. She looked so pretty all dressed up in new clothes that Rey bought her. I didn’t even notice her at first. She’s really grown up. Fifteen years old now. They say she’s the best soccer player in Barraza!!!

    We did it, Rick. We told the people’s story of Barraza and El Chorrillo. We made a difference in a small corner of the world.

    I did a little research on the girl who wrote the nasty words about our documentary. She happens to be president of Arco Properties. And I bet you’d never guess that her properties are right next to Barraza and El Chorrillo. Only blocks away. So now we know why she hated our film. I would too if it compromised the sale of my 980,000 dollar “development properties,” as she calls them.

    Check this out, Rick. Patrizia, who wrote the nasty comment on your student’s blog wrote one on her company’s website blog. Notice how much nicer she is on her own blog. I would imagine it’s because she knows property buyers will read what she writes. This is really unbelievable. Why didn’t she have the balls to post what she said on your student’s blog on her own website blog? Her conscience made her lash out big time.

    RICK: I suspected something of the sort. And yet BOTF is so lightweight in the way it hardly points fingers at all. She must have a profound sense of guilt to react so angrily. The fact that some investor or developer has come out so “reactionary” against Beauty of the Fight is clear evidence of how strong and true the film is.

  5. My review has nothing to do with sides or politics, is much more on the sentimental side. I have been involved for 17 years, with one of the biggest and most succesfull NGO’s in Panama, one that works everyday to get kids out of the streets, coffee plantations, and other forms of child labour; and takes them back to school.
    One of the centers with which I am most involved with, id the ventre of Curundú. I’ve been fighting since the minute I started working there, to tell people about the lives my kids of the center live. What it is like to live around gunfires everyday, getting out of highschool if you make, and try to find a decent job without getting rejected only by saying you come form one of this neihborhoods.
    I myself for the first three months I was going to the center, and even if I understood what this kids were telling I couldn’t get to feel it mine, I would go back home to my punta pacifica apartment where I am safe, with my cable tv, go out on nice dinners and live a reality complete opposite of that one of my kids.
    That was until one day, Enrique, a 12 year old kid on my group didn’t show up to the peace festival for Curundu, my kids had organized, him being one of the most interested in it, I instantly worried. When I asked th teacher in charge where was he, he told me he had been shot on his back while helping some politician put up flyers, he was there minding his own bussines when a gang fight broke and he got caught in the middle.
    Enrique a few days later was back at my program and telling the story as nothing, that day I left the class early cried desperately the whole way home, and creid for three more hours after that.
    Why am I telling you this story? simply because when I saw everyone at the theater crying the night of the showing, while watching the documentary I knew they got what I’ve been trying so hard to make them understand, and this is why I am so thankfull to Jhon and all the members of his crew, because even if they are not the same neihborhoods, they show the same reality! They are even really close to each other.
    When people were crying watching the film they didn’t see what goes on in this neihborhoods, they felt it.
    I dont care about historicall facts, I care that people who saw the film felt it theirs, their reality their cause. at least I did and everyone around me did as well.
    And that just makes it one of the best documentaries made about the history of this people and the people in this hoods and communities.
    thank you john, rick, jeff and everyone involved for openning peoples eyes on whats going on at their own city, blocks away!

  6. Oh by the way Patrizia, the road I take to Casco, where my office is, everyday, is through El Chorillo, and theres a point where you cross from El Chorillo to Vitin Paz new culture house, where you can’t tell whether you are in El Chorrillo or San Felipe. I sill don’t know, and like I said, I pass it every day to go to my office.

  7. Bart Ziegler, PhD

    Patty, sounds like you and your sidekick Aude have personal interests to profit. How cheap and tawdry! There is nothing wrong with being a capitalist, but greed and misinformation at any cost is unacceptable.

    Never before has any Panamanian or American told this story, in such a way as to portray the humanity in the barrio. With wit and brilliant eye the filmmaker John Urbano and his crew have hit on a sensitive subject deserving plenty more discussion. Thank you Patty for bringing up additional interesting issues to Urbano’s opus.

    I have yet to see many urban community centers in Panama as the one nearly completed in El Chorrillo. More are necessary, and hats off to Hector for his brilliant leadership there.

    Most importantly is that 100% of every dime in ticket sales and book sales go directly to this community center. I know of few in the business or philanthropic world as generous as John Urbano and his crew. Pretty amazing, Patty, is what modesty and integrity will do in the long run. . He’s putting his money where his mouth is, gracious generosity rarely seen anywhere these days.

    Well done, Urbano, well executed! And Patty, yup, we can all learn from such modesty and dedication.

  8. Bart Ziegler, PhD


    ARCO Properties is run by Clara and an American boyfriend with millions to invest in barrio purchases, from what I hear. Patty/Patrizia is married to an American and they all work together (with Clara) to buy cheap properties in the barrios, then sell at many fold profits. Financial interests were yet declared in her rants above.

    Most disturbing is rumor on the street that ARCO Property group is involved with throwing people out of the subject wooden homes and/or burning down these historic wooden structures.

    Though merely hearsay, this is important enough to share in light of Patty’s venomous personal attack on filmmaker John Urbano and his crew.

    With such disturbing information, Patty, Clara and ARCO Property need to come clean with financial interests in order to regain any sense of respect or integrity, so it would seem.

    Regardless, the film THE BEAUTY OF THE FIGHT promotes saving cultural identity and historic legacy that is rapidly diminishing .

    Every dollar from Urbano’s film and books are directly donated to the Community Center in El Chorrillo. Perhaps ARCO Property might consider contributing to the community they deed purchase on the cheap. People I’ve met from the barrio are truly colorful and would welcome such compassion and giving.

  9. Dear Real Estate Developer Film Critics,

    John Urbano’s film Beauty of the Fight is controversial because it brings the viewer deep into the lives of “real” poor people living in a dangerous district in Panama. The film never states there’s a cause and effect relationship between the US invasion in 1989 to capture Noriega and the present state of affairs in El Chorrillo, Barraza, and neighboring districts. The fact that some viewers believe the film states such a relationship suggests that these viewers don’t actually “see” the film. They merely react to what they see in the film as compared to the stereotypes they hold about what documentaries should be or do. No such cause and effect relationship is even subtly stated in the film let alone stated directly. The film never says the invasion caused Moose the boxer to train for the world championship, or a certain cock to win a fight, or a certain gang-war to result in the death of a young man, or a certain girl’s house to fall down. It would be absurd to claim that the one caused the other.

    The makers of Beauty of the Fight located footage of the invasion near the beginning of the film and prior to the “beauty of the fight” section of the film merely because the invasion was the one major historical event that occurred prior to the filming of Beauty of the Fight that puts the neighborhood on the map. If American audience members happen to remember the invasion, then by this means they have a way to connect Barraza and El Chorrillo to an event already present in their minds. The invasion is background, placed chronologically where it belongs in the flow of the film. (Still, one would be hard put to say the invasion didn’t have some kind of effect on the neighborhood.)

    I must reiterate that not all documentaries are concerned with history, causes and effects, or problem and solutions. Director John Urbano never set out to make a historical film, nor was it his intention to make a film that explores the causes of or solutions to the problems of this small neighborhood in Panama. Rather, he has produced a kind of ethnography of the people living there at present—their struggles and stories. The documentary is developed thematically around the “beauty” of the people as they “fight” to survive or as they “fight” for the simple pleasure of fighting. Nothing more. The “beauty of the fight” is nothing more and nothing less than what we refer to as “dignity.” The film seeks nothing more than to humanize the people of these neighborhoods.

    As for the concern with the names of neighborhoods, 90% of the shots were taken in Barraza and El Chorrillo. Most viewers would find the film distracting and cluttered if there were constantly shifting references to a lot of different neighborhoods throughout the film. Barraza and El Chorrillo suffice to speak for other neighborhoods that suffer such developments not only in Panama but also in other parts of the world.

    I myself prepared the interview questions for General Manuel Noriega. Once we received his recorded interview, we decided to remove the few political remarks from the content since it was not in our interest to transmit his political views in the film. What remained were his astonishingly poetic descriptions, which we decided to retain, since the words we included were carefully translated and edited. We included his descriptions not because we take the man lightly (we don’t), but because he hasn’t been back to Panama since 1989, and because his interview was part of the process of making a film that took four years to make, and because he speaks with such vividness and clarity about how the neighborhood used to look and smell. Nothing more.

    Since the film is more concerned with “theme” than with historical accuracy, documented fact, expert opinion, identifiable causes, or proactive solutions to clear problems, it’s inevitable that the film be ambiguous. We are and were conscious of this susceptibility. After beating our heads together about what the film is about, what its artistic aims are, and who its intended audience is, we decided that our concern with “beauty,” “loss of home” (as a universal phenomenon in an atmosphere of global development), and “fight” speak to millions of people who can relate with their very existences—or with their hearts.

    If, because of its ambiguity, the film has inadvertently flushed out a few real estate agents, developers, and investors, it never occurred to us that this would happen, but we consider the fact that it did to be a happy coincidence. Real estate agents, developers, and investors in the area should be relieved that the film mentions no neighborhoods other than Barraza and El Chorrillo and doesn’t refer to all of Casco Viejo as home to these sometimes troubling but beautiful images.

    The fact that the film’s images of poor people struggling to hold onto homes, businesses, and lives has stirred up such a bee’s hive of real estate development reaction is a testament to how strongly these images impress the viewer with the people’s true plight and feelings.

    As for houses burning down due to aging wiring and power overloads, how many houses burning down—and especially falling down—can reasonably be accounted for by wiring problems in, say, a single year? The issue here, however, is not so much that houses are burning and falling down but that the people of these neighborhoods are being moved about like cattle to arbitrary, alternative housing.

    Finally, it’s easy to say the government is failing in its duties, but government doesn’t hold the monopoly on leadership. The expression “business leaders” suggests businesses have social responsibilities as well.

    Rick Clark
    Beauty of the Fight Script Consultant
    English instructor, Seattle Central Community College
    Editor, Newsletter of COR Northwest Family Development Center
    MFA, University of Washington

  10. ARCO PROPERTIES and Patty and all her relatives and friends don’t necessarily need to burn down any more old homes nor move out people from the barrios.

    Instead they might work with the residents and fund some stunning effective community centers of education and culture for the children with the millions they’ve profited from real estate.

    Once USA legalizes drugs (as many other countries already have), financial incentive is gone. Gangs and drugs will disappear.

    What enormous opportunity for Patty, who has been blessed with enormous profit, to help her own country enormously.

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