Jesselyn Silva may be only 10 years old, but she already knows what she wants to be when she’s older: a professional boxer.
But her loving father, Pedro, is caught between supporting her dream and worrying about what it means for his daughter in the boxing ring, especially as her involvement in the sport continues to grow.
Director Emily Sheskin’s short documentary beautifully and perceptively captures the journey of one girl into a traditionally male combat spot. This portrait captures the feisty young athlete as she works with her trainer, spars in the ring and debates with her father about her future. Using a deft mix of action and interviews, viewers are immersed in Jesselyn’s milieu on her own terms, understanding both the appeals of challenging herself and the obstacles she faces.
The strongest initial appeal of the short is the girl at its center. Jesselyn is a vibrant personality, funny and smart and confident, and it’s a pleasure and inspiration to watch her go after her dreams. Smart and articulate, she is clearly alight with passion for what she does, and it’s hard not to feel equally inspired along with her.
But the film also captures a uniquely supportive and complex relationship between a parent and a child. Pedro is clearly supportive and loving, and a large part of Jesselyn’s spark and drive clearly come from him. But he’s also apprehensive about what it means to participate in a combat sport like boxing, especially as Jesselyn and her competitors become stronger and capable of inflicting and receiving serious injury.
Watching Pedro navigate the line between offering support and warning is a lesson in empathy and parenting, which often juggles the need to protect children with the equally strong need to equip kids with the resilience to meet future challenges.
“JessZilla” is an inspiring portrait of a girl hoping to break athletic barriers, and Sheskin plans to keep capturing Jesselyn over the years until the 2024 Olympics, where the boxer hopes to compete in her sport eventually. But it’s also a beautiful testament to how families love, support and help one another grow — encouraging kids to find their passions, do what they love and aim for their best.