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Film festival crowd in Bel Air applauds showing of 'Glena'

Jeanne Close, a volunteer for the Town of Bel Air Film Festival, smiles as she prepares a batch of popcorn during the opening of the festival Friday.
Jeanne Close, a volunteer for the Town of Bel Air Film Festival, smiles as she prepares a batch of popcorn during the opening of the festival Friday. (DAVID ANDERSON | AEGIS STAFF)

Although the first day of the sixth annual Town of Bel Air Film Festival was Thursday, the official opening of the festival was Friday evening with a welcome from the head of the Maryland Film Office and a special VIP event before the film began.

About 70 people attended Friday's event, which included samples of wine, cheese, fruit and desserts before the doors opened for the showing of "Glena," a documentary about female mixed-martial arts fighter Glena Avila's quest to become a professional MMA fighter.

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Organizers said about 86 people attended Thursday's showing of the documentary "Fed Up," through which the filmmakers take on commonly-held beliefs about diet and exercise.

The festival, which continued Saturday, was at the Bel Air Reckord Armory on North Main Street.

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Trish Heidenreich, an organizer of the film festival and economic development director for the Town of Bel Air, was pleased that 70 people were drawn to downtown Bel Air Friday.

"If we can get people shopping and creating a little bit of social energy, then that's a good thing," she said.

Members of the audience, which included top Bel Air officials, could sit at tables or in rows of chairs to watch the movie while enjoying freshly-popped popcorn and drinks.

Town Commissioner Susan Burdette thanked the many town, county and state officials, film promoters and cultural arts board members, as well as local businesspeople, who helped organize and promote the festival.

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Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office, introduced the film.

He joked that, since the Baltimore Orioles were knocked out of the Major League Baseball playoffs earlier in the week, "you have a great opportunity to see a lot of films."

"It's been a pleasure as a Harford County resident; it's exciting that the festival is here," Gerbes said. "What [festival programmer] Rebecca [Jessop], Trish and her team do is amazing."

Audience members watched intently as the story of female MMA fighter Glena "Heartless" Avila unfolded on screen.

The film, written and directed by Portland, Ore. filmmaker Allan Luebke, shows the then-36-year-old Avila's quest to move up from amateur MMA fighting to the professional circuit.

At the same time, she has to be a single mother to her two children, handle a relationship with her boyfriend, fight a custody battle for her daughter with her ex-husband, prevent her home from being lost to foreclosure and work full time at the Oregon Veterans' Home in The Dalles.

She has to balance all of those aspects of her life while training to fulfill her dream of being a pro fighter.

"Everybody in this house has to sacrifice something, not just me," Avila says in the beginning of the film.

Her children and boyfriend, who help her train and watch some of her fights, express their frustrations with how Avila's quest seems to have taken over their lives.

Mixed-martial arts fighting takes place in a padded cage, and the fighters kick, punch and grapple as they try to dominate each other.

Avila stresses during the film that MMA is not, however, about fighting and aggression.

"It's about a physical game of chess," she explains.

Avila did not have experience before getting into MMA in her 30s.

"After I won, it was just like a snowball effect," she says. "Everything just kept rolling."

The film follows Avila through her amateur career, during which she amassed an undefeated 6-0 record, and her first professional fight.

Audience members in the Armory applauded as Avila comes from behind to win her first pro fight against a younger and stronger opponent.

Avila, now 39, has a 4-2 professional record, according to her page on http://www.sherdog.com.

She won custody of her daughter, but lost her house, and her relationship with her boyfriend.

Maryland MMA fighter Rosanna "Rosanimal" Garcia spoke to the crowd after the film. The 28-year-old Gaithersburg resident, who also has a master's degree and works for the federal government in the health care field, echoed Avila's views about MMA.

"What makes me feel me is fighting, but it has nothing do to with fighting," she said.

Garcia, who grew up in Montgomery County, has a 0-1 professional record; she is recovering from an injury to her anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, in her knee.

Garcia said she is committed to her dream of being a fighter.

She said later that watching the film "was like looking in a mirror; it made me want to scream, laugh and cry, all at the same time."

Audience members spoke with Garcia after her talk; several hugged her, and Carrie Kelley, of Bel Air, told Garcia she was an inspiration.

Kelley, a high school and college athlete, does CrossFit training in Bel Air.

She said she enjoyed watching Avila's story, "just the dedication to it, trying to do a hobby in a man's world."

Her boyfriend, Lester Hitch, of Belcamp, also enjoyed "Glena."

"I thought it was a great story [about] fighting adversity and dealing with her struggles," he said. "I thought it was great to see her overcome it all, basically."

Sharon Castronova, of Bel Air, owner of Sharon's Hawaiian Shaved Ice, told Garcia about her son's efforts to recover from injuries while playing lacrosse at Johns Hopkins University.

"I wanted to tell her to hang in there," Castronova said. "I understand the passion that people like that have for their sport."

She also said Avila was "remarkable, that she could go for her goals and be a good mother."

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