Director James Toback has made a career studying lives lived on the edge.

From the twisted recesses of his audacious 1978 debut Fingers, to the controversial excesses of his volatile 1999 drama Black and White, Toback has never been one to shy away from extreme characters and the often tragic consequences their actions provoke.

That’s why the real life subject of his latest film, former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, seems such a perfect fit for his palette.

The controversial fighter has had a scabrous relationship with the media in his almost three decades in the public eye and due to a myriad of unsavoury personal and professional incidents has become more loathed that loved. Tyson is an outlet for the controversial figure to tell his side of things.

“The whole point of making this was to be a kind of confessional,” says Toback, in town recently to promote the films appearance at Hot Docs.

“I didn’t want to grill (Tyson) but rather allow him to open up, like he was speaking to himself.”

Toback’s film positions the camera on Tyson’s face and, outside of archive footage insertions and split screen techniques applied in post production, stays there letting the still hulking fighter expose every inch of his alternately sordid and splendid past.

Toback believes the ultimate effect is akin to a kind of tragedy of Greek proportions.

“It’s the story of someone who starts life with nothing, rises up and bottoms out twice because of his problems,” says the filmmaker.

“And because of his experiences, I really think Mike finally understands how truly insane life can be.”

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