Las Vegas-based filmmaker says, 'Sometimes it takes an outsider to blow the whistle on things that are wrong."
By Emmy Kasten | Las Vegas, NV
Having a good story is paramount for Las Vegas-based documentary filmmaker Landon Dyksterhouse, who premiered his fourth movie, Warrior Spirit, at the Las Vegas Premiere Film Festival this August. During its filming, what was intended as a modern day underdog narrative turned into a shocking exposé on the dangerous weight-cutting measures that were motivated by the UFC and endured by female fight champion Nicco Montaño. Dyksterhouse hopes that this film can do for MMA fighting what other powerful documentaries such as Blackfish and Icarus have done for the industries they touched.
From a young age, making movies was an organic calling for Dyksterhouse. As the son of an airman, he was born in Stuttgart, Germany and grew up in Saudi Arabia before moving to Seattle, Washington, for high school. He recalls making basketball highlight videos for fun and later honing his editing skills at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque where he was a broadcast journalism major. However, he yearned to flex his creativity and share the perspectives he gained by living abroad. “I would spend time on my own making small documentaries and different music video projects,” he says. “That’s how I started to grow and realize that I wanted to pursue filmmaking on a larger scale.” Soon after college, he produced his first documentary, The Proving Grounds, that featured the biggest names in the UFC, which is how he originally connected with the MMA community.
After nearly a decade in Albuquerque, Dyksterhouse relocated to Las Vegas where he continued making documentaries, the format that he is drawn to the most. “Especially in this age of misinformation, documentaries help bring truth into the light,” he says. During his past eight years in Las Vegas, he produced, directed and edited two more films before tackling his latest feature-length project, Warrior Spirit, that took him in an unexpected direction.
“We weren’t out to expose the UFC,” says the 40-year-old filmmaker. “It really was a modern day Rocky story that took a turn to the left, and it went south.” From the start, Dyksterhouse was not aware that Montaño—the first Native American female and inaugural UFC flyweight champion—was cutting weight with the UFC Performance Institute to prepare for the biggest fight of her life against the formidable Valentina Shevchenko. The disastrous weight cut resulted in kidney issues that required major medical attention that nearly cost her life. “That’s why this story is especially alarming,” he says. “[The UFC were] trying to help her make these very steep weight descents that are biologically impossible.”
As a macro theme for the film, Dyksterhouse points to corporate greed as the motivation for how the UFC treated Montaño, who was ultimately stripped of her title. “The UFC exploiting their fighters to make millions of dollars is an eerie parallel to how our country exploited Native Americans. They were promised something, and it was stripped away at the end.”
To date, the UFC has eschewed commenting on Warrior Spirit, and Montaño has not done any media surrounding the film’s release. “I think that she has an opportunity to be a Colin Kaepernick-type of figure in the sport of MMA who can help raise red flags and improve things for fighters across the board,” says Dyksterhouse.
In the meantime, he is busy preparing for upcoming festivals including the Albuquerque Film + Music Experience, September 20-26, and ImagiNative in Toronto—the largest Native American film festival—October 19-24. Both festivals are expected to enable screenings online, so his story can reach a wider audience and ignite a positive change amidst controversy.
“Sometimes it takes an outsider to blow the whistle on things that are wrong,” says Dyksterhouse. “If we have to be the scapegoat and play that role with this film, then so be it.”
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