Between Rings - The Esther Phiri Story (2015 film)

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Between Rings - The Esther Phiri Story
Between Rings - The Esther Phiri Story.jpg
theatrical release poster
Directed byJessie Chisi, Salla Sorri
Produced byTahir Aliyev
Written bySalla Sorri, Jessie Chisi
StarringEsther Phiri
Music byMiki Brunou
Edited byJuha Nukanen
Helmi Films
Release dates
  • 11 Nov 2014 (Denmark)
  • 26 Jan 2015 (Sweden)
  • 8 Mar 2015 (Zambia)[1]
  • 19 Mar 2015 (Greece)
  • 9 Dec 2015 (Germany)
Running time
47 minutes

Between Rings tells the story of Zambian professional boxing champion Esther Phiri. The film narrates Phiri’s battle to overcome poverty and make a few sacrifices along her path to became one of Zambia’s most talked about female athletes. Phiri’s decision to return to education and become a 7 time world welterweight champion has defied all cultural expectations. She is often noted as a symbol of female empowerment especially through her role of encouraging adolescent Zambian women to take part in sports. ‘Between Rings’ was written and directed by filmmakers Jessie Chisi and Salla Sorri of Helmi Films.

Film Synopsis

Whilst most young women in her home town of Zambia were busy planning weddings, Esther Phiri had other ideas – To stay single, be a professional boxer and complete the high school education that she abandoned, when her family fell on hard times.Her quick and meteoric rise to undefeated world champion took not only the boxing world by surprise but sent emotions fever pitch. But whilst the global press rushed to portray the image of the strong and confident woman tagged Zambia’s Million Dollar Baby, in private, Esther slowly crumbled under the weight of her success.Adulation and celebrity had increased on one hand but so had criticism, envy and expectations from her family and fans.In the pursuit of independence from a husband, her global success had made her a symbol of hope and empowerment and a provider for her family and friends whose demands increased as Esther’s fortune grew.

Filmmaker's view

By Salla Sorri on Al Jazeera

We first met Esther around August 2009 in her training gym. She was at the height of her career and tired of how the public and media had invaded her life, in way that she felt like an object. Despite this, she gave us her trust. She agreed to our request to make a film about her life, but only if she could tell her own story to the world, in her own words. That time Esther had just broken up with the love of her life who she was about to marry. She was already a 6 time world champion in female welterweight boxing and about to compete in a fight to win her 7th world champion belt. At the time, she was considering competing at London Olympics 2012, where female boxing had just been approved.

Esther was not only a strong female icon but also enjoyed the popularity and fame similar to male boxing. Many of those we met said that Esther had made boxing popular again in Zambia. It is remarkable how Esther opened up new avenues for women in this sport. After her rise, in neighboring Zimbabwe, women were allowed to compete as professional boxers for the first time. While in Esther's gym, we met women from all ages who had come to train especially because of her.

For three years we followed Esther's journey with a small crew, mostly made up of women. Esther made clear to us that she had plenty of responsibilities and pressure from those who surrounded her life. She is strong, beautiful, furious, yet responsible.

We felt warm and safe to be around her but she can also demand a lot from her close ones - and for their own good. As an idol, she aims to maintain a good public image, even when things were hard. No doubt she is a talented athlete but I think that she is also very focused and driven; choosing to train with men instead of women and reacting well to the numerous obstacles in her way.

Esther has fought to be at the top of her game but in private she fights to strike a balance between her career, family and love life. It is a conflict any modern woman can relate to.

We found it quite striking how, even at the top of her career, she struggled with a feeling of insecurity; would her loved ones take care of her too if she ever needed them one day? Is she fighting for herself or to make profit for others?

What united us - the filmmakers - with Esther is that we are all women, around the same age, we are stubborn and we all love with heart and hope.

Making this film we got to experience different specters of Zambian society; from communities living in poverty to the close circles of the president. The journey made me think about the different levels at which we have our own battles. It always boils down to the same basic question; what are we fighting for?[2]


Between Rings premiered in Lusaka on the 8th of March, 2015, on International Women's Day.

Date Festival Country
September 2014 27th Helsinki International Film Festival[1] Finland
26 January 2015 Göteborg International Film Festival Sweden
11 November 2014 Copenhagen International Documentary Festival (CPH: DOX) Denmark
8 March 2015 International Women's Day[1][3] Zambia
19 March 2015 Thessaloniki Documentary Festival Greece
9 December 2015 Copenhagen International Documentary Festival Festival Germany


See also


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