Why you should care

Because nothing informs or entertains more than Eugene S. Robinson realizing his portion of the film hit the cutting room floor.

“If you don’t mind terribly I was wondering if I could come to where you train and maybe fight you.”

Emails come floating in over the transom all the time. Entreaties to save Nigerian diplomats or wayward PayPal accounts. They come in, get summarily dismissed and the day continues, but it’s rare to have someone put so much on the line for? Further investigation would reveal that we had friends in common, me and this challenger who I would find out was named David Sampliner.

Friends that had followed his line of wanting to delve deeply into what constitutes “manly” and “manhood” for a guy, him specifically, who had not felt very much of either, and had suggested he contact me. Possibly because of my well-publicized over-identification with both via twin pursuits of mixed martial arts (MMA) and bodybuilding, as well as the occasional street fight.

”The other men in my family, my older brother, my father, are pretty macho,” said Sampliner having actually shown up to watch what happens when the business at hand is the business of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. ”And I think I just needed to figure out what was going on with them that wasn’t going on with me.”

Filmmaker David Sampliner as a young boy. In one hand he holds a toy gun, in the other, an umbrella.

Sampliner as a young boy

Source Betsy Sampliner

So this 40-year-old, who’s now a father himself, dove into a seven year trip that took him all over the map to what manhood might mean and the results – a film called My Own Man – debuted to a sold-out audience at the Tribeca Film Festival on the East Coast, and showing at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival on the West. Sampliner, more physically imposing than the cinematic antecedent he finds himself most philosophically aligned with, Woody Allen, is soft-spoken and his speech halts and pauses as he apologizes when asking after what he thinks will be some sort of Rosetta Stone of manliness.

“Are you tougher than your own father and if so, how?”

”Tougher and a better man. But ‘how’? By being a whole hell of a lot less afraid,” I say.

“Of what?”

“Everything.”

Sampliner gets it, and what emerges over the 90 minutes he talks, as we fight and he watches, is that it’s maybe less a concern about his personal sense of manhood but whether or not the concensus understanding of what it is to be a man is something he can pass on. And to pass it on he has to figure out what it is. The film? A first step. A pretty major first step if you consider that, according to Sampliner, Netflix has picked it up for a wider 2015 release.

But the trailer resonates with as much post-Iron John brio as Sampliner brings to bear while still concealing the fact that he’s probably just as manly as any man. Made much more evident when he asks at the end of our 90 minutes of fighting, “can I try?”

Which was the moment we all had been waiting for and why he was really here.

“Sure!”

The outcome? Probably predictably painful but Sampliner was game, didn’t whine and continued well beyond the point that anyone with good sense would have. A certain aspect of manhood personified.

Post-beating, he bid us adieu. Later the email came letting me know that though the footage of me crushing him was good it didn’t make it to the final cut, but he still wanted me to come to the film showing near me.

Which, if you think about it, was a pretty ballsy, manly move on his part.

And yeah, I’m going to go too.

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