Anyone who takes a boxing class quickly learns two lessons:

  1. Keep your damn hands up.
  2. If you get hurt, grab your opponent before they hurt you more.

Bittersweet, Marieke Niestadt’s debut documentary about Australian fighter Diana Prazik’s bout with the Swedish WBC titleholder Frida Wallberg, foreshadows early on that something bad’s gonna happen, then throws the action back to Prazik’s preparations with trainer Lucia Rijker. Rijker, a former fighter nicknamed Lady Mike Tyson, played Billie the Blue Bear and did bad things to Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby.

As training progresses and the final fight details are negotiated—the blonde, blue-eyed Wallberg will have home-ring advantage in Sweden, and her promoters think so little of Prazik they fail to list her on posters—the mood remains ominous, a reminder that boxing (like football) is a sport where disaster is a split-second reaction away.

On the gym wall reads the Mike Tyson quote: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Bittersweet is about how human beings prepare themselves for mouth punches.

One of the great accomplishments of the film, which we screened recently at NYC’s First Time Fest, is showing how strange the existence of a professional fighter who’s yet to hit Manny Pacquiao-levels can be: there are no massive entourages here and money is always tight. Hilariously, at one point the trainer Rijker complains that the bout had better happen because she’s already missed a chance to do stunt choreography for a Bollywood film.

Prazik and Rijker also bicker endlessly about Prazik making weight for the fight, with Rijker reminding Prazik not to get too thin. Both boxing and MMA are notorious for fighters dropping huge amounts of pounds pre-weigh-in to ensure they make the cut and then massively bloating up before the actual fight, as if to ensure every organ in their bodies takes some damage. And so Prazik works, alternately excited, scared and ready to get the damned fight over with already.

The actual fight footage is completely compelling, both because of weird pre-fight discoveries (Rijker notices the ring will become dangerously slippery the instant the fighters begin sweating) and strange details from the fight itself (Wallberg’s trainer’s colorful underpants stick out so far when he counsels her between rounds).

On the wall of Rijker’s gym reads Male Mike Tyson’s famous quote: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Bittersweet is about how human beings prepare themselves for mouth punches. And without hesitation, we are proud to name it our Bulleit Frontier Film of the First Time Fest. We salute this devastating documentary for helping even non-fight fans get a better grasp of what it takes to get in the ring.