Gethin Aldous is the director of the mixed martial arts documentary Renzo Gracie: Legacy, which will debut at the United States Sports Film Festival on Oct. 25 in Philadelpia, PA. The film is the culmination of ten years of chronicling the life of the legendary jiu-jitsu master through video and could be the sport’s most influential film release to date.
Aldous, a film-maker who divides his time between New York and Argentina, has been working in the film and television industry for the past 12 years as a soundman and camerman whose work has appeared on PBS, the Discovery Channel, ABC, and the BBC. Legacy is Aldous’ directorial debut and we recently conducted an exclusive interview with him leading up to the film’s premier.
Sam Caplan: What was the inspiration behind getting involved with Renzo Gracie as the subject of your documentary?
Gethin Aldous: In 1998 I was killing time while out of work and I (rented) UFCs 1-4 from the local video shop. It blew my mind. For everyone who saw those fights, they were unforgettable, this skinny Brazilian, Royce Gracie, fighting bare knuckle in a cage, beating all manner of fighters without really throwing any punches or taking any damage. It changed my whole idea of martial arts. It was an incredible moment. In 2001 I started training Brazilian jiu-jitsu with Robin Gracie in Barcelona and my knowledge of the sport grew a little deeper. I mentioned to Robin that I was moving to New York and he told me that I must train at Renzo’s. I was a freelance TV director at the time and looking for a subject for my first documentary. As soon as I met him it was clear that he would be perfect. But when I started I never realized how deep this story really was.
Sam Caplan: In the trailer, it said that the documentary has been filmed over the course of the past ten years. Can you talk about that a little more? Was it off-and-on filming? Did you just get involved in the past couple of years and acquire pre-existing film? Or has he been shadowed for the past ten years?
Gethin Aldous: In 1997 a student of Renzo’s (named) Alex Shum started following Renzo to all of his fights with a camera. Then in late-2001/early-2002 I took over filming, with maybe a six month break in between. I filmed off and on for the next six years. Every time Renzo had a fight, I happened to be between jobs. I had no budget as it was all self-financed, so I would jump on a plane to Japan when he fought and sleep on the floor at a friends house who was living in Tokyo at the time. It was an amazing experience.
Sam Caplan: Pat Miletich makes a statement in the trailer that Renzo is different from his cousins in that he never dodged opponents. Was this a point of contention raised by others you interview for the film?
Gethin Aldous: I put in Pat’s quote, not in a effort to take anything away from the other Gracies who have all done extraordinary things for the sport, but because Pat’s opinion was important as it showed one fighter holding another in such high regard. Others may agree with Pat’s opinion, some may not.
Sam Caplan: Will die-hard MMA fans be surprised by some things they will learn about Renzo in this film?
Gethin Aldous: I am a die-hard fan of MMA and as the layers of this story unfolded before my eyes I was certainly surprised and more than often, inspired. So yes they will be, this is an extraordinarily deep and personal story.
Sam Caplan: Can you talk about how you were about to get the film entered into the U.S. Sports Film Festival?
Gethin Aldous: I was asked by someone working at the U.S.S.F.F to submit my film as they had seen a rough cut when they were working at the IFL. I submitted it, they loved it, and the dates all worked out perfectly. So here we are. If you live anywhere near Philadelphia get down to the world premier of this film on October 23rd, Renzo and myself will be there and the film will be shown with a 5.1 stereo sound mix that is going to blow the roof off!
Sam Caplan: After it premieres at the U.S.S.F.F., how will the film be distributed?
Gethin Aldous: After much deliberation we have decided to self-distribute the DVD of the film on the Internet. This way the fans get the same film, with over 90 minutes of DVD extras, for a very low price and the money goes to the filmmakers. If we go through distributors the fans end up paying $10 more and we get a lot less. This is an amazing film and we feel that the power of the Internet will sell it. After that initial DVD run we will put it on TV and in stores (and) maybe even cinemas. Time will tell.
Sam Caplan: Were you able to see much of the next generation of Gracies, such as Igor, Gregor, and Roger? If so, do you feel they will be able to follow in the footsteps of their famous forefathers?
Gethin Aldous: I saw a lot of them. All three that you mentioned have amazing potential, and could be powerful forces in the MMA, but it is all down to the hunger of the individual fighter. Igor and Gregor both lost recently but they are young and getting your first loss out of the way is probably a good thing. They will grow from that. Obviously Roger has done enough to go down in history as one of the best BBJ fighters ever, I think he could do the same in MMA. Rolles Gracie Jr. is another one to watch out for. And if she ever decides to fight MMA, Kyra Gracie’s jiu-jitsu is insane.
Sam Caplan: Do you think we’ll see Renzo fight again?
Gethin Aldous: Million dollar question that one. That’s up to Renzo. I know he hasn’t trained for awhile but then over the years I was filming he only really trained when he had a fight. The rest of the time he was building his academy and training his students, cousins and brothers. He claims he’s not retired.
Sam Caplan: Is this a movie that you believe can transcend the hardcore MMA and grappling community and appeal to those who aren’t familiar with the sport?
Gethin Aldous: I made this film deliberately so it would transcend the MMA and grappling community. This is an ancient story in a modern age. A man of honor, integrity and self-knowing, battling the world and himself in order to continue the legacy of his family. This is old school. Within that story we have the explosion of a sport and the Gracie’s role in that. I have shown it to many non-fans and by the end they want to watch the sport. How could they not, this is the most compelling sport out there.
Sam Caplan: What was your first encounter with Renzo like and going into filming, what was your exposure to MMA and jiu-jitsu?
Gethin Aldous: My first encounter as I said was amazing, when I mentioned making a film he jumped at the chance. He invited me in, gave me access to him at all times, and we ended up becoming very good friends. As for the exposure to MMA, I have to say the days filming at PRIDE in Japan were the best. Ryan, Ralph, Rodrigo, Daniel, all those guys were around, rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of modern MMA. It was an amazing experience.
Sam Caplan: MMA has so many amazing stories that have yet to be told yet we’re stuck with movies such as “Redbelt” and “Never Back Down” that really missed the mark as far as conveying the essence of the sport to the mainstream. Did you see those movies, and if so, what did you think? And with the Renzo documentary completed, do you have any plans to tell some of the other stories pertaining to this sport that need to be told?
Gethin Aldous: I agree with you about “Redbelt” and “Never Back Down,” they both missed the mark, but at least they featured MMA in one form or another. I hope that my film does capture the essence of this sport, the depth, the power, the magic.I believe this sport is gaining so much popularity because, like any great film, it is multi-dimensional. On one level there is the perceived violence, go deeper than that and you find the art, go deeper than that and you find a legacy and tradition dating back to feudal Japan, warriors, Samurai code, concepts that resonate deep within us. This sport will grow and grow, but it does need a few great films. And in answer to your question, I am working on a script right now.