This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in April 2004.
‘Black Cloud’ a knockout picture for audience and Chinle family
By Ed Odeven
When someone’s life inspires a movie, does that person find the movie inspiring?
That’s the question I posed to Chinle boxer Lowell Bahe in a phone conversation Thursday, seven days after “Black Cloud” made its cinematic debut at the Phoenix Film Festival in Scottsdale.
“Oh, yes,” Bahe declared. “Now that it’s out, it’s like you can’t slack off because people are looking at you now. … You’ve just got to work harder and practice what you preach.”
What Bahe preaches is a tireless dedication to his craft. Day after day, he works on his powerful combination of jabs and hooks and, of course, the all-important footwork at his father Cal’s gym, the Damon-Bahe Boxing Gym, which is next door to their home.
Bahe has won six junior-national titles, two USA and four All-Indian National title belts. Bahe, who turns 17 in May, is moving up to USA Boxing’s Open Division for fighters between the ages of 17 and 34 and plans to drop about a dozen pounds to fight in the 152-pound division.
Rick Schroder, the well-known TV actor going back to his days as a child star on “Silver Spoons” and the 1978 boxing movie “The Champ,” wrote and directed the independent film. Its budget did not exceed $1 million.
Eddie Spears, a 21-year-old who last appeared on the TV program “Edge of America,” stars as Black Cloud. Tim McGraw, the popular country singer, plays the part of Sheriff Powers. Well-known Native American activist Russell Means also has a role in the movie, while Julia Jones plays Black Cloud’s girlfriend, Sammi.
(Bahe’s real-life girlfriend, Samantha Yellowman, who chatted with Jones during the festival weekend, helps him prepare for fights, laces up his gloves, etc., while Bahe’s older brothers, Johnny and Jason, serve, respectively, as a sparring partner and a motivator, a la Drew “Bundini” Brown, Muhammad Ali’s corner man.)
While doing research for the movie, Schroder heard about Bahe’s Olympic dreams and the distinguished history of the Damon-Bahe Boxing Gym, which has produced 24 All-Indian National champions and seven 50 State Junior Olympic national champions.
Bahe’s quest for Olympic stardom in 2008 became a central theme of the movie. Or as the movie’s official Web site put it: “Black Cloud is an inspirational story about a young Navajo Native American boxer who overcomes personal challenges as he comes to terms with his heritage while fighting his way for a spot on the US Olympic boxing team.”
Instead of hiring a crew of workers to build a boxing gym for the movie, Schroder decided to use the Damon-Bahe Gym.
“It was the best set you could have ever had,” Schroder told The Arizona Republic. “It was the real thing. It looked so authentic because it was authentic.”
Filming went on for 11 days last June in Chinle.
Schroder appeared at the film’s premiere last Friday and spoke about the project.
“I was stunned … that Rick Schroder (told the audience) at the beginning that the movie was based on our boxing club,” said Cal Bahe, who took over the club in 1978 that was established by his grandfather, Lee Damon, a former boxing champion while in the Marines.
Then the movie started. The elder Bahe became even more emotional in discussing his initial impression of the picture.
“Let me tell you, the first time I saw it, the first day Friday, I couldn’t even speak, couldn’t even talk to the audience,” Cal said. “I was very emotional after the movie.”
And what’d Lowell think of it?
“The movie was great, man,” he decided. “The movie really turned out … you just can’t explain it.”
What Lowell has no trouble explaining is how driven he is to make his dream become reality.
“Watching the movie, it does give you motivation,” Lowell said. “It’s like people made all this for you and you’ve got to make it true, try your hardest to make it come true for 2008 in the Olympics (in Beijing). That’s my goal right there: to win (a medal in) the 2008 Olympics.
“People say I do have the potential to do it. They say, you have everything; all you have to do is work at it. That’s what I’m trying to do. To make their dream come true because people do have dreams about Navajos doing something. I just want to make them happy and make them proud of me and make history for the Navajo Nation.”
Though the movie is an inspirational force in Bahe’s life, he underscores the motivation his 5-year-old nephew, Joseph Herrera, has had on him. When he was 3, Joseph was diagnosed with leukemia. Joseph is much healthier these days, Lowell said.
“That little boy, he’s a smart little boy,” Lowell said affectionately. “I think about him a lot, especially when I’m in the ring. He pushes me to think about him.”
The movie’s debut weekend was a resounding success at the Phoenix Film Festival. It received the best picture audience award — there were 12 feature films at the festival. It was scheduled to be shown on Friday evening and twice more last Saturday, but the jam-packed theater had to turn people away on Saturday.
So another showing took place last Sunday. “Black Cloud” is expected to be released in Flagstaff, Gallup, N.M., and several other locales in the Southwest in the next few months.
The elder Bahe especially liked the movie’s cinematography. He said the picturesque views of Canyon de Chelly, Kayenta and Monument Valley were “fantastic.”
During last weekend’s festivities, which included a private party the Bahe family attended at Schroder’s Scottsdale home, there was plenty of time for interaction between the Bahes and those in the movie.
Lowell and Eddie Spears had this memorable conversation:
“We were thanking each other,” Lowell said, laughing. “He was like, ‘Thank you for letting me play you.’ I was like, ‘Thank you for making the movie and putting your time and effort into making this movie.'”
“Is Black Cloud’s character a realistic portrayal of you?” I asked him.
“They way he played the role in boxing is kind of similar,” Lowell said, “but the way he plays himself as a character, it really wasn’t me. It was a rodeo type. I never really got into (that).”
“And what do you remember most from the movie?” I asked.
“The fighting, it was so good,” he said. “It was just so realistic when you’re in the theater and seeing the punches coming. The fighting is reality.”
“Is ‘Black Cloud’ your favorite movie of all time?”
Absolutely, he confessed.
“It’s No. 1 because there’s nothing like that,” Lowell said. “It has everything I like. It has the boxing in there. It has the life of the Navajo Nation in there, It has drama, romance, tradition. It has …a lot of things — the scenery, the fighting, the rodeos that go on … crooked cops … the drinking … (domestic) violence. … It shows all that.
“I like it because it shows the truth. There’s nothing better than the truth. It’s not really Hollywood. It’s not Hollywood at all.”