ESPN Films Presents: 26 Years: The Dewey Bozella Story (2012)

 Directed by Jose Morales

Dewey Bozella is not one of those names that is instantly recognizable like Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky, who also had 30 for 30 films for them. Bozella is not even a name like Reggie Miller of Allen Iverson. With 26 Years, ESPN digs deep to find one of its best stories, and certainly one of its most powerful. What I have found with the ESPN Films group of documentaries is that the strongest efforts are nearly always with the smallest of figures. There is something about the unknown factor mixed in with the ability to find the most awe-inspiring and truly dramatic sports related events that makes this set of films so engaging, relatable, and downright moving.

For those, like myself, unfamiliar with the trials and tribulations of Dewey Bozella, allow me to astound you. Bozella was a young man with many troubles living in New York City. His brother passed as well as his father, and at the age of 18 he got away to upstate Poughkeepsie, but he faced much the same troubles. Never on the right side of the law, Bozella was arrested, tried, and ultimately convicted for the brutal murder of a 92 year old woman in Poughkeepsie. The catch being that he was innocent. While trying to leave some of the story yet to be revealed, while in prison, Bozella took up boxing as a way to apply himself, even nearly defeating a New York Golden Gloves winner in an amatuer bout. But as a inmate in Sing Sing prison, his dreams of having just one shot at a professional fight seemed so out of reach, yet he still dared to dream.

This review will be one of the harder ones for me to write for a couple of reasons. For one, this was such a dynamite film that I don’t want to reveal too much about the story because I would rather encourage everybody to go check it out themselves (and it is a short film as well). The second reason it will be difficult is because the film seemed to wreck me emotionally by the end, on a number of different levels. Bozella is such an inspiring man for a number of reasons, but one of the greatest things I took away from my experience with the film, from the time I got to spend hearing his story, was to dream big, work harder, and never stop believing that great things will come to those who deserve it.

It wrecked me emotionally because it made me reflect on my own life in a lot of ways, and of where I am, what my dreams are, and what I am doing to get there, to achieve them. It becomes very sobering very quickly when you realize that someone like Bozella, who seemingly had the world set against him, was able to persevere and attain the greatest which he sought. I felt somewhat ashamed of my aspirations, but I also felt inspired. I find the greatest film experiences are marked by inward reflection, being able to not only connect with the characters on screen, but also to relate their experiences with your own in someway, however different they may actually be.

This is a small film in that it has a runtime less than an hour. This is a small film in that its subject was imprisoned for 26 years with little to do. This is a huge film for what it is able to accomplish in that short span. It is huge for taking the viewer on such a full realized journey, for chronicling so masterfully the life of Dewey Bozella. And finally it is a huge film because of Dewey Bozella. There are moments that make Dewey, who has seen and experienced the worst, who is a deeply flawed man, they make him seem larger than life. They make him rise higher than even he ever dreamed. One of the true triumphs of the ESPN Films production team to this point, and that greatness can only be attributed to the enormous heart, and the enormous dreams of Dewey Bozella.

***1/2 – Great

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