Heath Cozens Grapples with Controversial Sport

New Zealand-born filmmaker Heath Cozens, 41, saw his first Japanese disabled pro wrestling match in 2010. At the time, he didn’t know what to think.

Cozens, who spent 18 years in Japan as a video journalist, watched men and women with various disabilities, some only able to lie on the canvas and head butt each other into submission, enthusiastically grapple.

“I was shocked and then I wanted to laugh, and then I felt bad for wanting to laugh and then I thought, ‘Why shouldn’t I laugh?’ and then I thought, ‘Is this exploitation or entertainment or what is it?’” said Cozens, who was in Toronto recently at the Hot Docs festival to present his first feature-length documentary, Doglegs.

Doglegs started 20 years ago, after two disabled men started brawling over a woman at a drop-in centre. Cozens said volunteer Yukiji Kitajima, who was “dissatisfied with way the disabled were being treated,” figured what better way to smash stereotypes than by starting a wrestling league for people with varying abilities?

The bouts happen twice yearly, where wrestlers with ring names like Worthless Goro, No Sympathy and Melty Gorilla square off. They’re in it for the glory and empowerment; there’s no pay and the audience is primarily made up of the disabled community, family and caregivers.

Audiences may question if the league is exploiting the disabled.

“I want people to look at that feeling. Where is it coming from?” Cozens said. “I think it’s a valid concern to have. I want people to really think about it and ask themselves why they’re so concerned with the welfare of these people. It’s a healthy thing to start with that but to let it die on the vine and not explore where these feelings are coming from is a waste.”

Original article by Linda Barnard, Toronto Star, April 26, 2015.

Tags: Doglegs  Heath Cozens  Hot Docs Film Festival  Toronto Star  

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