The Brain of a Boxer

During boxing's golden age, Paul Pender overcomes physical adversity to become World Champion. In later life he is misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer's. After death, however, doctors discovered Paul had been suffering from CTE, the debilitating disease that's at the forefront of contact sports today, including football, soccer, and hockey. Paul's disease was so severe that his brain is the "index case" - the brain against which all others are compared.

The real causes of CTE and the risks to young athletes today are revealed in the documentary. Paul’s story serves as both a cautionary tale for what can happen when athletes aren’t properly cared for, as well as a fitting tribute for a man who was known for his intelligence in and outside of the ring.

  • Felice Leeds
    As The Twig Is Bent
  • Felice Leeds
    As The Twig Is Bent
  • Bennett Leeds
  • Dr. Ann McKee
    Key Cast
    World renown CTE expert
  • Bud Collins
    Key Cast
    Journalist & sportscaster
  • Michael Dukakis
    Key Cast
    Governor of MA
  • Mike Silver
    Key Cast
    Boxing Historian
  • Richard Johnson
    Key Cast
    Curator, Boston Sports Museum
  • Mary Babbitt
    Key Cast
    In Wine Country, As The Twig Is Bent
  • Rose Pender
    Key Cast
    Paul's widow
  • Chad Rehmann
    Nova: Megastorm Aftermath
  • Felice Leeds
    As The Twig Is Bent
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Sports, Health
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 1 minute 3 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    November 8, 2016
  • Production Budget:
    40,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital HD 1080 30p
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Felice Leeds

Felice Leeds began her career in the mailroom at Walt Disney Studios. With a can-do attitude she quickly moved into a position as a makeup artist. Being on set exposed her to the many exciting and creative aspects of filmmaking. With an interest in the more technical side of production, she became an assistant film editor for TV commercials. It was there that she learned the power of editing to tell stories that resonate with audiences. Felice knew that one day she would be directing her own films.

In 2011 she directed her first documentary, "As The Twig is Bent," winning three CreaTV awards. Felice is a true independent filmmaker, working with a small crew, at times with just her husband in support, and utilizing state of the art software to bring her stories to completion.

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Director Statement

Paul Pender is the epitome of forgotten boxers. I always knew there was a boxer in my family, but it wasn't until I looked him up on Wikipedia that I learned my first cousin once removed had been World Middleweight Champion, beating the great Sugar Ray Robinson not just once, but twice!

I read about a boxer who was known for his brain as much as his mitts, a practitioner of the "Sweet Science," eschewing brutality for technical proficiency. I watched his fights on YouTube, hearing one announcer say: "Pender sounds more like a professor on a college campus when speaking outside of the ring." And so I set out to tell the story of Paul's life, and to find out why he had been forgotten.

About a year into working on the project, I learned that when Paul passed away in 2003, his wife Rose donated his brain to medical research. This was long before athletes were donating their brains to science, but Rose thought it was a good idea given his boxing profession. The results became critical to the study of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and today, Paul's brain is the index case by which all other brains are compared to.

The Brain of a Boxer is a story that puts today's controversies of CTE in proper perspective and challenges the viewer to question why boxing is allowed to exist