Sumo documentary to kick off film festival

Manny YarbroughManny Yarbrough

Along with blueberries, tomatoes and rock stars, New Jersey can lay claim to being the home state of a contingent of champion sumo wrestlers.

As with those better known Garden State specialties, the sumo wrestlers are making an appearance at the Shore.

On Oct. 4, the wrestlers will be at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park as part of a charity film event.

Manny Yarbrough, 740 pounds and 6-feet 8-inches — who was the 1995 Sumo Wrestling World Champion and two-time North American Champion — and six other Jersey-grown sumos will present a sumo demonstration in Convention Hall following the screening of the documentary "Sumo East and West," at the Paramount Theater.

The event, which will benefit the Hope Academy Charter School in Asbury Park, will kick off the Two River Film Festival, a three-day homage to the role of film in American life, that will take place the following weekend, Oct. 10-12, at venues in Red Bank, Atlantic Highlands and West Long Branch.

Proceeds of the multi-faceted festival will benefit programs for youth of the community, as well as the arts and education programs of local non-profits.

"Sumo is a very revered sport, and the men who practice it are like gods. Americans had never broken into the sport, and the film is about these men who take up sumo, go to Japan and are victorious over their Japanese counterparts," explained Rosellen Otrakji, founder of the Two River Film Festival.

The documentary is based on the 2000-year-old tradition of Japanese sumo wrestling, and tells the story of the invasion of Americans into the ancient sport and the profound changes the national sport is undergoing as it strives for Olympic attention.

"It’s very interesting to see how the Americans adapt to the ritual of sumo, a very elegant, almost priestly sport, the difficulties they encounter and the effect they have on Japanese culture," she said.

In keeping with the festival’s educational mission, Otrakji said the film, directed by Ferne Pearlstein and Robert Edwards, will "help children experience another culture and encourage them to learn more about the sport."

The Rumson resident reached out to Yarbrough to repeat the sumo’s public appearance at the Tribecca festival in their home state.

"He was a charming, wonderful guy. When he heard about our event and learned that the festival was to benefit children, he agreed to bring a group of sumo wrestlers, including a woman, who are donating their time. They want to spread the word about the sport to Americans."

In addition to Yarbrough, sumo’s Kevin Carter, Leonard Thomas, Rene Marte, Jerry Sharp, John Gonzalez and a female sumo wrestler, will demonstrate exer­cises and various techniques of the sport, as well as explain the rituals and the match.

"This event resonates with what we are trying to do," said Otrakji, "which is to have fun and con­stantly say, ‘Let’s learn something new.’"

The screening of "Sumo East and West" at the Paramount The­ater, 1300 Ocean Avenue, will be­gin at 11 a.m., and a Sumo demon­stration proceeded by a question-and-answer session will follow at 12:30 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children under 18, payable at the door. Seating is limited, and reservations can be made by calling (732) 988-4227 by Sept. 29. Ticket price includes a lunch catered by Branches, West Long Branch, which is donating the food.

For a full schedule and ticket information for Two River Film Festival, visit Screenings are at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Tickets for screenings other than the sumo documentary and demo are $8 ($5 for seniors and students).

Tickets for films at the Clearview Cinema on White Street in Red Bank will be on sale after Sept. 29 at the theater.

Tickets for screen­ings at the Atlantic Highlands Cin­ema will be available at the box office on Oct. 12.

— Gloria Stravelli