A few years ago, filmmaker and teacher David Liban found himself in the grips of a midlife crisis. His weight was up; his mood was down.
“I needed to do something that was my personal space,” said Liban, an associate professor of film and television in the College of Arts & Media.
Liban found the perfect activity in martial arts — a discipline he’d shelved since his college days. After taking up karate again at age 46 and setting his sights on attaining a black belt by age 50, Liban decided to document his journey on film. The result is “Looking for Mr. Miyagi,” a documentary about discovering that it’s never too late to embark on self-improvement. The feature-length film also explores the themes of mentorship, family and fatherhood.
A special screening of “Looking for Mr. Miyagi,” will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, at the Alamo Drafthouse Littleton, 7301 S. Santa Fe Drive.
Mr. Miyagi, the mild-mannered karate teacher from the 1984 film, “The Karate Kid,” represents a spiritual guide. In some ways, we’re all in need of such a mentor, Liban said. “He kind of teaches you by accident, like the wax-on wax-off kind of thing,” he said. “It’s just this father-figure mentor that’s really desirable.”
In his own journey through the karate belts, Liban received mentorship from martial arts teachers as well as fitness coaching from Inigo San Millan, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, and his assistant, Nick Edwards, who both appear in the film.
“He was blunt with me, which is the way I am and I respond to that,” Liban said of Edwards, who is a professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter. San Millan performed repeated physical assessments on Liban, showing how his karate practice pays dividends in a slimmer wasteline and better fitness.
Liban, who is married and has two young children, said the project proved to be life changing in many ways. Now 49, the filmmaker has lost weight and is fitter than he’s been in years. You’ll have to watch the film to see if he reaches black belt.
He says he’s more in touch with things he used to take for granted. “In karate, you have to be present,” Liban said. “That kind of focus and clarity is a practice that continues outside of class as well. It’s made me a better filmmaker. It’s made me a better teacher. It’s made me overall a better person.”
The film shows how Liban’s karate quest brings him into a tight-knit community of martial artists, but also impacts his family and job. A documentary filmmaker for almost a decade, Liban has won awards at numerous film festivals and he won an Emmy for his documentary “Mortal Lessons” in 2008. He received a sabbatical from CAM in spring 2012 to work on “Looking for Mr. Miyagi,” which he produced, directed, wrote and edited.
Liban was inspired by the films of Morgan Spurlock, famous for “Super Size Me.” Like Spurlock, Liban steps in front of the camera where he candidly exposes his weaknesses and achievements. Several CU Denver students helped film “Looking for Mr. Miyagi,” which Liban is submitting to various well-regarded film festivals.
“It started being about the belt and it ended up being about self-improvement,” he said of the film.