Trailer – Raising Ali from gary robinov on Vimeo.

LEWISTON — The image in the famous Neil Leifer photograph is timeless — Muhammad Ali standing over a knocked-down Sonny Liston in a boxing ring in Lewiston, yelling for him to get back up and fight.

Sports Illustrated has called the photo one of the best sports photographs of the 20th century.

But for executive producer, artist and Lewiston native Charlie Hewitt, the photo is more than that. It is a metaphor for his life and the city of Lewiston: If you are knocked down, get back up and keep fighting.

Hewitt has teamed with Portland filmmaker Gary Robinov and local producer Sandy Marquis to film the documentary, “Raising Ali: A Lewiston Story.”

The world premiere of the 27-minute film will be shown on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network on May 25 — the 50th anniversary of the famed boxing match between heavyweight champion Ali and Liston, the challenger who had lost the title to Ali 15 months earlier.

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A special screening of the film will also be shown that night at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, the site of the original fight.

Hewitt, who will complete a sculpture for downtown Lewiston in the fall, told Robinov earlier this year of his dream of building a different sculpture to commemorate the fight in the city where he was born in 1946.

That’s when Hewitt revealed the importance of the iconic Leifer photo.

“That photograph served as a reminder for hope, struggle, perseverance, meeting a challenge head on,” Robinov said. “It became a touchstone for Charlie. It was a battle cry for him during tough times. He’s had that in his memory for a long time.”

The pair agreed to work together on a documentary, but neither was interested in filming merely a boxing movie. 

They both saw the opportunity to use the backdrop of the fight as a metaphor for Lewiston’s struggles to reinvent itself after the closure of the mills, still vital in the 1960s when the fight was held.

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“We wanted to send a message to Lewiston, a love letter to Lewiston,” Robinov said. “It was not so much about the fight for him. It’s something bigger than two guys showing up to trade punches.

“It’s really a story about Lewiston in 1965. It’s a story about where the country was in 1965 and then where we are today and where Lewiston is today. What does it mean to get up off the mat?”

With less than eight weeks to complete the project, they began filming before completing the fundraising. Robinov even said the project had its movie poster finalized before the first bit of film rolled.

They spent roughly a week in Lewiston in early April filming interviews with people talking about their memories about the fight. They also met with several of today’s community leaders about the fight’s impact 50 years later.

The filmmakers are working under a tight deadline to complete post production by the end of the week. Producers were still tracking down historic images of how Lewiston looked in the 1960s.

Some observers felt that the fight was fixed because of the controversial ending in the first round by the so-called “phantom punch.” The topic is addressed in the film and Robinov believes Ali did land the punch.

“If that fight was held today, you would have 27 different camera angles,” Robinov said. “Then, you had one camera angle and Liston’s back was to the camera. There’s no question that Ali came to fight. That’s why he was standing over Liston screaming at him to get up and fight.”

Unlike Liston, Lewiston got up off the mat, Robinov said.


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