Dust to Glory (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Someone says something at the beginning of this documentary about the Baja 1000, the longest point-to-point race in the world that sets the stage for the rest of the film. In life, he said, “if you knew you were making history you would have paid more attention to it.” “Dust to Glory” takes us to a real life world that wistfully evokes energetic memories of freedom and tenaciously living on the edge before officiousness and regulations reined us in.

These people were, and are, making history every time they enter this grueling race. What’s beautiful about the race and the movie is that they are doing it for the love of the venture. The winner doesn’t get more than $4,000, tops. It’s not for money; it’s for love.

Setting it apart from the glitzy NASCAR and Indy races, where they’re driving for fame, fortune, and glory, these people are driving for the adventure and the fun.  The race begins in Ensenada and ends in La Paz, 1,000 miles due south. But it’s not across paved, superhighways. No, this is an “off road” race and it goes across untamed desert, dirt, sandy beaches, whatever will get you there.

This film shows a wonderful, unregulated world unknown north of the border. There don’t seem to be any rules here. If you’re driving behind a slower car, you simply bump him from the rear and he moves over so you can pass him.

It shows the ingenuousness of life in Baja as two clueless policemen stop the race dead in its tracks by pulling over all the racers and stopping them then and there in the middle of nowhere. Their ignorance of the race can be forgiven when you understand that no special arrangements are made to clear the road for the racers. That’s right, they just start out from Ensenada and race over the country with the normal traffic still occupying the roads. So the racers have to encounter cars, trucks, cattle, children, and all the other hazards of normal, everyday driving while they’re in the middle of a hot race!

The logistics for filming a 1000 mile race over wild, open country were mind-boggling. Director of Photography Kevin Ward, Producers Scott Waugh and Mike McCoy and Director Dana Brown deployed more than 50 cameras in the following formats: 35mm film, 16mm film (with Nightscope), 16 mm time-lapse, Hi-Definition, Mini Hi-Definition (24p) DV Cam, Mini-DV. But they still had to cover a 1,000 mile race course, which they did with 13 ground units (teams of 3), 4 solo ground units (roving), 3 air units in helicopters, 1 chase team with specialized camera mounts on a buggy, multiple in-car cams/embedded cameramen with multiple teams, multiple helmet cams.

The result is amazing coverage of the entire race. Perhaps the most prodigious achievement of the race covered by the film was by Mike “Mouse” McCoy, who finished 2nd in class and 12th overall on a motorcycle in a time of 18:02:40 soloing the race all by himself. Everyone else had teams of drivers. McCoy was the first person to ever drive the entire race by himself.

Director Dana Brown is the son of Bruce Brown who created the classic surfing film, “The Endless Summer” (1966). Dana filmed a sequel, “Step Into Liquid,” (2003) which was as good, or better, than the original. It had a tagline of, “No special effects. No stuntmen. No stereotypes. No other feeling comes close,” and that would be apt for this one, too.

The cinematography, the interviews, the endurance, the enthusiasm seen in this film are wonderfully entertaining.

March 4, 2005