Todd Kellstein’s Buffalo Girls (2012) offers moments of hope but they do not overcome what otherwise seems a sad situation.
Buffalo Girls follows two of the 30,000 child boxers in Thailand. Stam and Pet are just under 10 years old, and both girls fight to help their families. For Stam she hopes to help her family with building their new house. Though she has a heart problem, Pet, too, fights to bring money home for her family.
Throughout this documentary we see the girls training, engaging in fights, and interacting with their families. The translator frequently asks them questions off-camera about what they like to do and how much money they make. These questions and their answers remind us just how young these girls really are.
While the boxing winnings bring some potential hope to these families, it is still sad to see such young children fighting and to see such exploitation of them. An interview with a referee raises questions about their safety, for he has seen many broken bones and other injuries. The girls also fight without headgear to protect them. What’s interesting is that the family members believe the girls’ fighting skills will prevent them from being injured.
The other part of the sadness here comes from the amount of money that changes hands. An interview with a bookie appears early in the documentary, and he reveals the system in place and claims he likes doing it for the money involved. The climax of this documentary is a bout between Pet and Stam that has a six-figure prize riding on it. The bookies will take home more money than the girls do.
This documentary does attempt some stylization in the fighting by reducing the noise during the bouts and then letting the noise explode between rounds, possibly to build the excitement. Fortunately, no commentary appears over the fight, but the heavy music segments, particularly early in the piece, felt a little out of place.