A new documentary about the annual Baja off-road race fast and furiously puts fictional race movies to shame. Acclaimed surfing documentarian Dana Brown chronicles the trials and tribulations of the tumultuous race across the desert in the film Dust to Glory.
The film is beautifully and technically shot and captures the insane experience of off-road racing’s ultimate contest. The annual 1,000-mile race is held in the crusty earth of Baja, Mexico and, according to the film, is the longest nonstop point-to-point race in the world.
The danger of the sport is apparent from the opening shot of the film. Think about all the crazy accidents that happen at the typical NASCAR event, and that is on the safety of a track. In Baja, there is no track. A dusty trail is somewhat carved into the desert and serves as a guide for the racers.
The number of racers is also a cause for safety concerns. The race draws the attention of hundreds of racers per year in a plethora of souped-up vehicles. The vehicles range from motorbikes to super trucks to the basic Volkswagen Beatle (not the new Beatle, and not a modified version, just the real deal). Some vehicles cost $10,000, while teams with major sponsors have vehicles that can cost up to $100 million.
Brown manages to add humanity to the sport by introducing the audience to the top drivers in the sport. Much like his fantastic surfing documentary, Step Into Liquid, Brown narrates but allows the riders to provide much of the commentary.
An amazing characteristic of some of the participants is the lineage from which they come to join Baja. Many teams consist of family and son combinations. One such team includes 62-year-old J.N. Roberts who, amazingly, competes yearly with his son. Star Mark McMillin’s 16-year-old son Andy joins the team in his first year of eligibility and performs very well.
Another determined athlete is “Mouse” McCoy. McCoy attempts the insane feat of driving the length of the race on a motorcycle without switching to a teammate.
About halfway through the race, at a pit stop, the audience is given a glimpse at the mental stress of such a taxing adventure. One of the riders explains that the journey can be even more trying mentally than physically due to the high stress. The riders have a constant fear of the unknown, missing a beat and failure.
The boys are not the only ones to tackle the extreme sport. A group of mothers, daughters, wives and sisters formed a team of all-female drivers. The forming of a women’s team is just an example of the community between the riders. A true internal support system has been established, and all involved, including the Mexican residents, count the days till the big race.
The camera work in Dust to Glory is daunting and wonderful. Cameras seem to have been strapped to every moving apparatus. There are captivating overview shots of the racers pummeling through the sandy, silty terrain. Helmet shots put you in the bumpy, unforgiving action. Night cameras were used to ensure footage of the whole 24-hour race.
While perhaps a bit too long, and possibly too narrow a topic for the general audience, Dust to Glory manages to capture the determination of the human spirit. The film evokes emotion through commitment and shows the zest that participants have for the sport. Buckle up for this one, and enjoy its fast-paced glory.
Documentary, PG, Running time: 98 mins.