FLINT, Michigan — Award-winning filmmaker Mike Ramsdell’s latest story follows Detroit boxer, Taylor “Machine Gun” Duerr, fighting opponents inside and outside of the ring. The documentary, We Can Be Heroes,
sheds light on addiction and recovery, helping dispel stigmas and challenge viewers’ understandings and beliefs on addiction.
On Wednesday, Oct. 19, the FIM Capitol Theatre will screen Ramsdell’s film as well as showcase a recovery-related art show, and host a panel discussion on addiction stigma, moderated by U-M Addiction Center.
Ramsdell is a Flint native who grew up in the East Court area, spending a lot of time outside, riding bikes, and playing with neighborhood kids. Since then, he’s noticed well-documented changes over time locally, and the inevitable impact the diminishing resources have had on schools and the entire city.
While attending Whittier Middle School and later, Central High School, Ramsdell became inspired by his time in the theatre program. “Those programs lit me up in a way nothing else did – so there was no question in my mind that I wanted to create stories for the rest of my life, and I thought film was the most exciting medium to do that,” he says.
His company, Under the Hood Productions,
focuses on ‘socially-conscious documentaries.’ Ramsdell defines these as “films looking to shed light on an issue of social importance.” He looks to a Thomas Hardy quote, ‘to understand the best of us, we must first be willing to take a full look at the worst of us,’ to reflect his own filmmaking approach. “Although I have turned my camera on some of the darkest corners of the human spectrum, it is always with the intention of creating a deeper level of understanding and connection,” Ramsdell says.
Shown in the documentary, Duerr gets a pep talk from his coach during a fight.
For his latest piece, We Can Be Heroes,
the documentary was filmed in Detroit and executive produced by Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, Gary Fisher, and Peter Berg (Chicago Hope, Friday Night Lights)
. The movie protagonist is Taylor Duerr, a championship-level boxer, who suffers from opioid use disorder.
“At the heart of every great story are three things: an objective, a conflict in reaching that objective, and a ‘hero’ the audience can root for,” Ramsdell says. “Taylor’s story checks those marks in spades. Taylor jumps off the screen and is someone the audience is drawn to immediately, and the conflict/tension of his athletic life and his addictions are the heart of the story. His objective of being the Cruiserweight World Champion is one everyone can get behind,” he says.
Taylor Duerr, 32, grew up in Royal Oak back when it was a blue-collar working-class town in the nineties. The main street was lined with record stores, comic book stores, mom-and-pop businesses, and full of culture, Duerr says. “We played outside all day, and when my dad would go to work, my mom would let me, my brothers, and their friends have wrestling shows in the backyard, often making videos and using as much theatrics as possible. That was when the seed to be a champion was planted in my brain,” he says.
After watching boxing scenes in films, Duerr’s interest in the sport grew, and his mother supported his dream. As the documentary follows Duerr’s rising boxing career, it also follows the lows he experiences outside of the ring. Duerr admits that being a prominent figure in the film, which shows the culture of addiction and recovery in Detroit, is a bit nerve-racking.
“I have seen the film, and personally, it’s always a little awkward for me to watch with the thought of so many people seeing everything I’ve been through,” he says. “I’ll have moments of embarrassment, but it is a very small price to pay for the amazing message that Mike was able to extract and convey to anyone watching it.”
Duerr hopes the film can help remove stigmas of addiction, defining it as a medical problem rather than ‘a problem for weak people.’ “If there is anything that this film displays the most, it’s discipline, perseverance, and strength – which invariably break down the idea/stigma that all addicts are weak people, which I, an addict, am far from,” he says.
Ramsdell’s hope is that by showing someone as successful and powerful as Duerr, the words associated with addiction, such as lazy, weak, hopeless, lost, and unmotivated can be removed. Once these are removed, audiences are forced to take a deeper look into why this disease is so prevalent, and what has helped propel its destruction into so many lives.
The movie’s themes are relevant in all communities, especially Flint, Ramsdell says. “The devastating toll addiction has taken on all slices of society makes it the most-pressing health issue in the nation, and as overdose deaths are climbing most rapidly in communities of color – Flint is exactly where a film like this can be of use,” he says.
“If we can let those who are struggling with addiction and those struggling to understand addiction know there is hope and there are resources, then it changes the way communities interface with the issue, and an issue of this magnitude requires a community-led effort.”
Duerr hopes viewers can walk away from the film inspired to use their inner strength, and be the hero in their own lives.
Tickets are free, but donations are accepted and will go to Families Against Narcotics Genesee County Chapter. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The screening starts at 7:00 p.m., followed by a panel discussion. Seats must be reserved online or by calling the FIM Ticket Center box offices at 810-237-7333. For more information, visit Capitol Theatre’s website.