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Spotlight: "The Kampala Boxing Club," by Sean Kernan

By David Schonauer   Wednesday April 4, 2018


Photographer Sean Kernan’s new film is a meditation on violence.

It’s also a meditation on beauty, discovered by chance when Kernan, a Connecticut-based photographer, traveled to Uganda and went wandering through the streets of its capital. “When I arrived in Kampala, I wasn’t looking for boxing,” notes Kernan, a PPD reader, in a prolog to the film. Rather, he adds, “I was looking for lives unlike my own.”

Inside the Kampala Boxing Club, Kernan found what he was looking for — as well as a new way to tell a visual story. “Making this film was pretty much how I learned how to make a film. I started knowing nothing, made mistakes, revised and pushed on. I couldn't afford an editor so I learned the film-editing software programs. I couldn't afford a cameraman so I shot it myself. I couldn't afford a sound person so I recorded it myself. So any shortcomings it has, I can’t blame on somebody else. But it was a fantastic way to learn. There are pitfalls in this approach, naturally, but I climbed out of most of them.”

The end result, a 45-minute film called simply The Kampala Boxing Club, unfolds like a journey, with Kernan along for the ride, as it transitions seamlessly from gym to ring, and from from ring to the streets of Kampala. The evocative photography captures a world and sport that, notes Kernan, is “so alive and demanding.”

While Kernan says he learned how to make a film by creating The Kampala Boxing Club, he has made another film, called Crow Stories, which he calls “a documentary immersion” into  life on the Crow Reservation in Montana.

The idea of immersing viewers in an unfamiliar world is also at the heart of Kernan’s new film. “The Kampala Boxing Club is a look at fighting and what lies beyond it,” Kernan says.

He began shooting the film with a Canon 5D Mark II DSLR, but toward the end he switched to a Sony a 7R II full-frame mirrorless camera.

“Sound recording was done with the cameras and occasionally with a portable Zoom H6 Handy Recorder, though it looked like a juggling act when I did that while I was also shooting. I would have loved having a real sound person. I’m not sure how having a cameraman would have worked, since in my case seeing is what makes things happen,” says Kernan.

Editing was begun in Final Cut Pro and finished in Premiere Pro. “That fabulous light and color were there to begin with, much more extreme and daring than I would’ve tried creating if I were lighting it. So the only color grading involved was trying to convey what was there,” Kernan says.

“For me,” he adds, “the great outcome this kind of work lies in what I become through doing it.”

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