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Grand Jury Award for
Best Short in Program 1
(click for details)


Shot on 16mm and completed in 2002.

Shadowboxer brings the issues of female teenage violence into focus through the story of a sixteen year-old girl named Reena. In exploring the family, societal and internal psychological pressures that eventually lead Reena to commit the violent act of severely beating her mother, the makers of Shadowboxer hope to raise awareness regarding the possible causes that culminate into violent actions by young women. In addition, they hope to generate compassion for Reena in the viewers as they witness her own painful but enlightening inner exploration of the perceptions, feelings and experiences that led her to her present restricted and miserable state in Riker's Island.

The narrative frame of Shadowboxer opens with the conventional setting of Reena's prison cell. The camera work mirrors the feelings one would feel in such a confined environment. Reena is fixating on the bare white wall in front of her and through a smooth transition sweeping the screen, the viewer is drawn into a series of relationships, losses and abuses, basically the experiences contributing to Reena’s alienation from others and eventually herself. These memories take place in the settings of city streets and the cramped, dark apartments of Coney Island and Manhattan.

The camera supplements Reena's sparse but powerful articulations of memory with disjointed cinema verite-like shots that draw the viewer into Reena's struggles with herself and her world. In the isolation of her cell, Reena can afford to call up the memory of her feelings and actions and disarm her heart as she searches for the reasons and possible meanings of her violent behavior. In the middle of the night, Reena's cell is plunged into darkness. The sounds of the prison cell can be heard as she stretches out on her bed staring into the dark above her, returning to her inward journey, this time to the powerful and haunting emotions and circumstances directly leading to the beating of her mother. Eventually the viewer witnesses the violent act itself as Reena fully resurrects her fateful deed before her inner eye.

To authenticate and prepare the context for Shadowboxer, Vilka Tzouras, the director, created a weekly discussion group with counselors and teenagers from The Door, a youth center based in New York City. The teenagers in this group met once a week for a year and felt secure enough to talk openly and trustingly about fears and pressures in their lives and about violence they have felt, experienced or committed. Thus Reena's memories are grounded in the real experience and emotions of our urban subculture.

Shadowboxer is dedicated to the many young women in our society who wrestle, usually in lonely alienation, with powerful and destructive emotions that they cannot understand and for which we offer neither counsel nor guidance. The film insists on the human value of young women such as Reena and implies that we must find ways to redirect constructively the energies of anger or violence that otherwise cause such irreparable harm and suffering. It is in trying to understand the lives of our youth that we learn what we must do to help them.