Three tweens, Annabeth Barnes, Brandon Warren and Josh "The Hammer" Hobson, race go karts that reach speeds of 80 mph in documentary filmmaker Marshall Curry's rousing Racing Dreams, which made its world premiere at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival where it won Best Documentary Feature prize. The young go kart drivers compete against each other in the National Pavement Series of the World Karting Association and their desire to win is crystal clear from their first races. More importantly, their skills behind the wheel are equal to their ambition. Curry, who received an Academy Award for his 2005 documentary Street Fight, captures the pulse pounding excitement of the races throughout the multi-state series. Curry also emphasizes the human drama of the kid drivers who face their own distinct challenges and setbacks in order to become champions. Arkansas-based distributor Hannover House, the entertainment division of Target Development Group, releases Racing Dreams late May into a handful of commercial houses in Southern states with a strong NASCAR fan base before a modest platform rollout into urban arthouses. Comparisons to recent docs Mad Hot Ballroom and Spellbound are understandable since Racing Dreams also follows young kids in a colorful competition but expect earnings far below Spellbound's $5 million cumulative tally.
Josh, Annabeth and Brandon Warren hail from different backgrounds but they share a common goal of wanting to become NASCAR drivers. The three tweens compete in the National Pavement Series, referred to as the Little League of NASCAR, and face challenges both on and off-track. All three go kart drivers are fascinating young heroes. Annabeth wants to be the rare female champion in a male-dominated sport. The film's most emotional scenes revolve around Brandon who comes from a broken home and struggles to attain the substantial amount of money needed to travel 50 weekends per year and compete.
The stories of Annabeth, Brandon and Josh intersect seamlessly thanks to quality editing by Curry, Matthew Hamachek and Mary Manhardt who trimmed 500 hours of footage into one fascinating film. Curry and his camera crew of Peter Gordon, Wolfgang Held and Alan Jacobsen do a fantastic job of capturing the excitement of the races but especially with Brandon they show the human side of this unique sports tale.
Music by Alternative band The National and veteran composer Joel Goodman complements the storytelling.
Curry admits to knowing next to nothing about NASCAR when he set out to make Racing Dreams and he has wisely made a documentary that appeals to racing fans and non-fans alike. Arkansas-based distributor Hannover House will first release the film in southern states with strong NASCAR audiences before an early summer platform to traditional top-market arthouses. Strong word of mouth and critical reviews will boost the film's profile and a partnership between Hannover House and New York-based cinema advertising firm Screenvision will keep theatrical costs modest. Unfortunately, Racing Dreams is not commercial enough to gain traction in mainstream multiplexes during the summer blockbuster season and its subject of go kart racers will also make the film a tough sell with specialty film audiences. Keep in mind the recent LeBron James doc More Than a Game earned less than $1 mil.
Racing Dreams will turn out to be a quality calling card for producers Alex Kuryzman and Roberto Orci who are adapting the documentary for a feature-length drama for DreamWorks. It's also a strong sophomore feature for the Brooklyn-based Curry who's already at work on his next documentary, this one about the Earth Liberation Front. Until then, Curry will introduce and screen Racing Dreams on the Queen Mary 2 during an August 2010 Transatlantic crossing; further proof of how much work it is to get independent films in front of any audiences.
Distributor: Hannover House
Director: Marshall Curry
Producer: Bristol Baughan
Rating: PG for some thematic elements and brief language.
Running time: 95 min.
Release date: May 21 ltd.