Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein's 'Fightville,' which examines the unabating mixed martial arts craze, is an exhilarating sports documentary and a levelheaded, piercingly intelligent treatment of a touchy subject. It humanizes and makes sense of a sport that, for all I knew, consisted of putting two men in a cage and setting them loose to beat the crap out of each other to the delight of hordes of bloodthirsty goons. 'Fightville' demolishes that preconception. Not since Chris Bell's 'Bigger Stronger Faster*' has a documentary done more to contribute to an ongoing discussion about sports.

Which is all the more interesting since there is nothing on the face of 'Fightville' to suggest that it is interested in contributing to any discussion. Unlike 'Bigger Stronger Faster*', this is not an issue film. Instead, it functions as a profile of four individuals in various roles within MMA, all based in and around Lafayette, Louisiana: a trainer, a promoter, and two fighters. The movie follows them for 18 months as they make their way through the lower echelons of this brutal sport. (And whatever other preconceptions 'Fightville' may correct, it makes clear that MMA is brutal – it only takes a couple of minutes to get to a shot of a bloody and prone man being mercilessly pounded in the face by a thinly gloved fist.)