Weekly Alibi

DIRECTED BY: Lorenzo Doumani

REVIEWED: 02-28-00

Lorenzo Doumani got quite a baptism into the world of filmmaking when, at the age of 21, he signed over his entire trust fund to help his family finance Francis Ford Coppolla's The Cotton Club -- one of the most notorious financial flops in the history of Hollywood. Despite such rocky beginnings, Doumani has stuck with film, writing, directing, producing (and even starring) in a string of low-budget, often direct-to-video releases.

While films like Mad About You, Storyteller, Amore! and Bugbuster may not ring many bells, Doumani's latest effort, Knockout, is opening in more than 300 theaters this weekend. This wholesome, inspirational tale of a female boxer in East Los Angeles who lives out her father's dream to become a professional fighter is being distributed nationwide by Doumani's own company, Renegade Movies -- another Doumani family gamble that Mr. Doumani was kind enough to chat with Weekly Alibi about recently.

I think a lot of people wonder how a film of this size, a film this independent, comes about? How did the project start for you?

It was really hard, actually. It's basically being willing to do it all yourself. Raising the money, getting the actors, music, everything. We started the whole thing in early '97. Because of the Latin content -- basically out of the eight parts, five of the leads were Latino -- no one would finance the movie. No one. So, I went ahead and I borrowed money personally. I took out a mortgage on my home, credit cards -- you name it, I did it. That's how the movie got financed. We started shooting it March or April of '98. It was finished editing in early '99. The Latin thing still was not in vogue, and nobody would even watch it much less say "We hate it," "We like it." They refused to see it -- the studios, I'm talking about. It's really horrible.

The problem is, these studios are all multi-billion-dollar conglomerates. Even if this film did great, with their overhead it's not worth their time -- which is basically what they explained to me. They said, "OK, say it grosses two, three, four million dollars -- we'd lose money. It's literally not worth our time, even if it were to be successful -- which we don't know it would be." So at that point, we went and sought independent distribution, and same thing again -- sell certain rights in exchange. We took the money from the rights we sold and used every penny of it and more to be able to get [the film] out in the theaters.

Has it been hard stealing screen space from the big studios?

Yeah, it's been rather difficult. It's been even harder getting the support of media, believe it or not, because most of the major papers -- I'm talking The L.A. Times, things like that -- they've got their space devoted to the major films. They don't even do anything on us. It's like we don't even exist -- unless you win a festival or something. But this isn't a festival film. It's more of a mainstream, popcorn, feel-good movie people cry at, they laugh at. It's not an art film. The papers seem to respond to art films, and if you're making something mainstream, it better well be through a studio. That's basically been the problem. [The film] is what they consider "soft." It's emotional, it deals with some Christian values, it deals with Latino subject matter. And in major markets, they don't care -- to be very blunt about it. It's kind of a shame. I'm Latino. My family, my mother's side is from Ecuador. People talk about all this stuff in the Latin marketplace, but nobody really does anything about it.

Now that Latino acts are on the upswing, do you notice the community supporting each other, sticking together?

Unfortunately, they're not and that's the main problem. The Latin marketplace is fragmented. I don't care if it's political. I don't care if you're talking movies and arts and entertainment. It's fragmented. The Cubans have their thing, the Mexicans have their thing, the Puerto Ricans have their thing. It's each separate. There's no cross-support. It's not like blacks, you know. They're not like "somebody's from Nigeria, somebody's from Uganda, somebody's from the West Indies" -- you're black. With Latinos it doesn't work that way.

We've got a soundtrack to [Knockout], two actually -- one that's in only Spanish. We've got groups -- there's one from Albuquerque, actually, Sparx -- they have the lead single called "Knockout." We tried to get them on the air in Miami. They said, "Ah, they're Mexican, we don't play them down here." They wouldn't even listen to the track. In L.A., the top Latin station would not listen to José Feliciano's track, which is the opening credit song. "Nah, José's Puerto Rican. He's an East Coast act, not a West Coast act." I would have never dreamt this until I encountered it. It's really amazing.

But that's the problem. There's thirtysome-odd million Latinos in the United States, yet they don't support each other. The Puerto Ricans don't support the Mexicans, the Mexicans don't support the Puerto Ricans and the Cubans only support the Cubans. It's one of those weird things. ... It's been a real problem, but we're trying to change that. If people will support a film like this, then more things will get made utilizing Latinos and different ethnicities. But if they don't support it, and they don't come out -- go see Scream 3 or something -- then they can't really be in a position to complain. When you employ five of eight in the leads and they don't go support it, then everybody's going to say, "Well, why should we make anything utilizing [Latinos]? They don't support it."

You seem to be relying on sort of a grass-roots campaign to promote this film.

Which is the only way we can do it. We don't have the millions of dollars to bombard people with the TV and radio commercials. With the average release today in the United States, the marketing budget is $15 million. That's average. A big movie's 25 to 30 million.

Which I'm guessing is far, far more than the budget of your whole film.

Uh, yeah, by about 50 times. So there's really no other way to do it. In a way, it's an experiment. I've got a lot on the line with it, from my own mortgage and credit cards and all that. But I'm hoping, in the end, that it proves worthwhile. And if it does, it'll encourage other people to make small, independent films that are truly independent.

--Devin D. O'Leary

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