Vail festival film examines ‘Little League NASCAR’
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –Marshall Curry’s documentary “Racing Dreams” screens at the Vail Film Festival this weekend. On the surface, it’s a film about “Little League NASCAR,” but, of course, the heart of the story goes much deeper. Marshall’s film explores the ideas of childhood dreams, rising above tough odds, and just what makes people so interested in fast cars. We chatted with Curry about the film and how he, a “sophisticated” New Yorker, became a most unlikely fan of what is seen primarily as a rural sport.
1. Vail Daily: Have you always been a racing fan? Why did you choose to make a film about kart racing?
Marshall Curry: Before I started making this film, I didn’t really know anything about car racing and I didn’t understand the appeal. It just seemed like a bunch of guys driving around in circles – flooring it and turning left. I’d say that attitude is pretty typical in New York, where I live.
But I knew it wasn’t typical for the country as a whole. NASCAR is reportedly the second biggest spectator sport in the country after football – bigger than baseball or basketball. And I have family in North Carolina, so I knew how much passion there was out there for racing.
2. VD: How did the project come together?
MC: One day I read about the World Karting Association series for 11 and 12 year olds who race karts that go 70 mph, and has become the unofficial Little League for NASCAR, producing some of the sport’s biggest drivers.
I thought that sounded pretty amazing, and one of the things I love about making documentaries is it lets me spend a year or two learning about things I don’t know about. So I went to a race to scout it out, and it was better than I imagined. The racing was fast and noisy and dangerous. The kids were smart, funny, and at that perfect age where they are young enough to be honest and open, but old enough to be interesting and insightful. So I put aside the project I was working on and got to work on this film.
3. VD: What drew you to Annabeth, Brandon, and Josh as the subjects of “Racing Dreams”?
MC: People kept saying, “Have you met that Josh Hobson yet?” When I finally found him, he’d just come off the track after winning his fourth Grand National race. He began talking to me about his passion for racing in this professional way – like an adult in an 11-year-old body – and I knew then that I had a movie.
The test footage we shot of Annabeth at that first meeting is actually in the movie. I remember standing there hearing her say, “Ever since I was just a little five year old I said ‘Daddy I want to be the first woman to win the Daytona 500,'” and I couldn’t stop grinning – she’s just so spunky and original.
Brandon was there with his grandfather and I sensed a story there. He had a mischievous twinkle in his eye, and an intelligent charisma that’s hard to explain –like a sweet kid who had charmed his way through a lot of rough times.
4. VD: What were your biggest challenges during filming?
MC: I wanted this film to be photographed well – to capture the colors of the races and the characters’ lives. But I also really wanted to keep a small presence while shooting. I think that intimacy and comfort are the most important elements to getting magical moments.
We decided to shoot with a new, compact HD camera that shot onto memory cards rather than tape. Now it’s becoming a lot more common, but just two years ago, no one was shooting verite docs this way, and each card only held 20 minutes of footage. Each card was around $1,200 bucks, so we had to constantly run them out to our van, download it onto a hard drive, and then run it back to the shoot. It made for a complicated workflow, but I was really happy with the balance of beauty and intimacy.
The editing was also a huge job. We shot 500 hours of footage, so it took about three months just to screen the material once.
5. VD: What do you think people love about racing?
MC: When I first began this movie, I remember wondering whether NASCAR was really a sport. But no one who understands racing well asks that question. It’s an amazing act of endurance, strength and reflexes. A professional racer will drive a car at 180 mph for three hours without stopping – maintaining perfect focus and intense concentration the whole time, missing the wall and the 42 other cars on the track by inches in a sweltering car that can be 140 degrees. All of that is done with the realization that a single mistake could mean death.
6. VD: What did you learn from working with these three kids and their families?
MC: I learned a lot about racing. I learned how intense it is, how competitive, and how much technology and skill go into winning a race.
And I learned to love it. I don’t see myself going out and spending the summer following races from state to state like some of the hard core fans, but I definitely know now what it’s like to feel the heart-pumping thrill at the close finish of a big race.
7. VD: After making this film do you want to race? If so, have you or will you try it?
MC: After our last shoot, some of the kids let our crew take their karts out on the track. We had been watching them do it for a year and we thought we had a pretty good idea of how it was done. But when we got out there, it was pretty funny. We were screaming “Whoooo!” in our helmets, sure we were setting track records – wondering if the kart was going to break into pieces under the intense g-forces. We found out later we’d been going about half of the speed the 11 year olds go when they race.
Movie: “Racing Dreams”
When: 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek
More information: http://www.vailfilmfestival.org