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IN THE OSCAR RING

Things for documentarians Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen look rosy indeed. Their critically lauded feature-length documentary “On the Ropes,” which has already racked up several awards including the Special Jury Prize at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, also is up for an Independent Spirit Award and an Oscar. The “Hoop Dreams"-like film about three ambitious and talented young boxers and their trainer from Brooklyn’s New Bed-Stuy Boxing Center has also piqued the interest of Warner Bros., which has optioned the rights to make a feature film based on the documentary with Burstein and Morgen attached as co-producers.

Life is not so rosy, however, for one of the film’s subjects, female boxer Tyrene Manson.

Manson, who was caught up in a drug bust involving her uncle Randy Little, missed her chance to compete in the prestigious Golden Glove finals at Madison Square Garden due to a court date and has since been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison. (Manson was convicted of possession of an illegal drug with intent to sell when a small amount of crack cocaine was found in the bedroom she shared with several others during a police raid after Little sold drugs to an undercover policeman.)

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Little died earlier this month of AIDS-related complications, orphaning two children; his wife succumbed to the complications of AIDS several years ago. Manson’s custody of her two young cousins was revoked once she was convicted.

The filmmakers, who have kept in close touch with Manson, plan to escort the film’s three other subjects, boxers Noel Santiago and George Walton and trainer Harry Keitt, to the Academy Awards ceremony March 26. Although Manson is out on a work-release program and living in a halfway house, it is unlikely she will be able to attend the Oscars because of parole restrictions on out-of-state travel.

Morgen describes the situation as “tragic, because Tyrene is a big part of why we were nominated. And she could have received a much lighter sentence if she’d plea-bargained, but she refused--against the advice of her attorneys--to cop a plea because she wouldn’t lie before God.” Prisoners’ rights advocates in New York are collecting signatures to petition Gov. George Pataki to let Manson attend the Oscars. If Manson is unable to attend, Morgen says he and Burstein will invite one of her cousins.


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