documentary : Blue Blood

Blue Blood - A word from the Director

E Borley

Beyond the spires, the studies and the scenic setting of Oxford and Cambridge Universities lies a world dominated by just one colour; Blue. Director, Stevan Riley, caught the real-life action of the young Varsity boxers hungry for an Oxford Blue...

Blue Blood is a new film which was filmed, edited and directed by Stevan Riley, an Oxford grad himself. "Having studied at Oxford, I had attended the annual fight night and been blown away by the charged atmosphere and ferocity of the bouts", memories of which prompted him into creating a documentary about the Oxford v Cambridge Varsity Boxing Match, seen through the eyes and experiences of five members of Oxford Varsity Boxing Club, in training for the big match.

We track the fortunes of Chris, a gauche yet charming young man with a winning smile and slight frame, Fred who's been brought up by his mum and harbours long-term resentment for his runaway dad and punches with a grudge, Charlie a lover of fine art and fine women, Justin who's got two speeds - hard and much harder and James ('Boiler') whose terrier-like approach to training and life in general, earns him all round respect from his peers and audience members alike.

The docu-film is shot in a near Blair Witch style with shaky camera shots, slightly out of focus pans, and jerky jump-cuts that jars the eye. At first, this style of camera-work is a little bumpy to get used to. But, once acclimatised, it underpins the film with a sympathetic eye that, just like the director, wills the young contenders forwards onto victory. We seem to share their fears, their excitement and their passion as we watch them develop and their characters emerge over the series of months in which the film was shot.

Stevan is aware that the touch of passion and empathy within his directorial style doesn't always befit a hard-edged, cold-blooded documentary maker, but this genuine and gentle approach allows the viewer to engage with the characters sympathetically, warmly discovering the individual personalities of its stars without intruding voyeuristically a la 'reality show' style.

"One of the characters, Boiler, gets savagely beaten at a fight he had at the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy. I was filming that and I remember having a feeling, (because I was allowed to film the other side of the divide where his army opponent was training), and I thought, 'uh oh, Boiler's going to lose here' - I saw this guy and he was pretty aggressive on the pads and I thought that Boiler's not going to be able to cope with that... after his beating, I remember meeting him and felt hugely emotional, and it felt sort of vulgar to film him and so I didn't really. I got a tiny clip but it just didn't really feel appropriate." And, true to form, we witness a full on slaughtering of Boiler with just a small clip of him after the fight and this feels just about right. We don't want to linger over Boiler's humiliation as the director's style has helped make us root for him and we don't want to see him down, out and destroyed.

A would-be contender himself for a Varsity boxing Blue ("I was going to fight in the Varsity Match myself, but I had a concussion that took me out of my studies for a week, so that put paid to that!"), Stevan gave us unique insight into what makes young men, like Boiler, put themselves in for such humiliation, hurt and hard, hard training;

"I think, actually, for the rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge there's a genuine aura... there's a real fascination with all things Oxford and Cambridge and then when it comes to the boxing, with it being one of the oldest Blues in the University and with it being one of the oldest amateur boxing rivalries in the world, there's a good amount of kudos within the University if you're a boxer. I think that that appeals to a lot of young men, especially at an age when they're seeking to prove themselves."

And prove themselves they do. It's not all crowning glory, but at the end of the film, you feel like you've been on the journey with them and it's pretty exhausting once you get to the end. There's baying for blood, there's real-life flowing blood and there's Blue Blood.