Dylan River’s documentary chronicling the Finke Desert Race, an off road, multi terrain two-day race for bikes, cars, buggies and quads through desert country from Alice Springs to the small Aputula (Finke) community, is as awe-inspiring and endearing a tale of heartbreak and the bone-shattering quest for racing glory to come down the pike in quite a while.
The treacherous route on the bone-dry Finke river bed, that stretches hundreds of kilometres out of Alice Springs, is a two day event that comprises of two race sections, one day spent racing one direction, pitching tents, drinking (a lot), staying the night and then doing the race back to Alice the next day.
Four-wheeled vehicles race first, followed by the motor bikes. Hundreds compete for the sake of adventure and for the ability to tell the story that they completed the insane race, though there are professional bike riders in it for the win.
We’re introduced to the KTM team rider David Walsh, an Alice Springs local. Yamaha sponsored bike racer Daymon Stokie is something of the underdog in the event, though he’s also a local. There are a number of other riders who we follow in the gruelling race, one in particular is Isaac Elliott, who attempted the race some years earlier only to hit a tree and break his spine, leaving him a paraplegic.
Isaac’s intention is to finally finish the race, so he enlists a mechanic friend in Alice Springs who welds a frame onto the bike to cradle Isaac’s legs, so he can straddle and ride a bike and hopefully even finish. While he does this, he’ll be shadowed by two friends on motor bikes, who’ll ensure he’s helped whenever he needs it.
It’s the sheer lunacy of the venture and Isaac’s bloody-minded grit, to strap himself to a bike and potentially face further bodily damage in an effort to get closure, that haunts him daily, that is not just deeply aspirational but also extremely moving.
Bearing many similarities to the documentary TT3D: Closer to the Edge , which featured similarly obsessed, crazy-brave riders who compete in the Isle of Man TT motorcycle race, an equally treacherous race where the riders and their families understand that injury and loss of life is part of a competitive rider’s lot. Where the Isle of Man racers compete to be dubbed King of the Mountain, the Finke riders compete for the moniker King of the Desert.
The cinematography in Finke: There & Back is stunning, with aerial photography taking full advantage of the desert locations and the outback’s wide-open vistas. This is a documentary that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen available.
Narrated by renowned revhead Eric Bana, Finke: There & Back documents that most quintessential Australian trait: the ability to shrug-off the most crushing, soul-destroying and difficult tasks with a joke, a laugh and an ice cold beer.
Wind & Sky Productions, in partnership with Federation University, the Australian Red Cross Society and Ballarat RSL launch their collaboration to pay tribute to the men and women who returned to WWI battlefields after the war had ended, to trace missing Australian soldiers and report back to families how and where they died. Lest we forget.
Pay close enough attention to the soundtrack in American drama-comedy film A Boy Called Sailboat and you will be serenaded with the sounds of well-known tunes beautifully adapted into mariachi.
Powerful church anthems, blues-rock classics, Mexican folk; no genre escapes the Grigoryan brothers’ quaint and subdued score. But perhaps the most transportive of their covers is the adaption of children’s nursery rhyme ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’; its inclusion capturing the beauty of childhood wonder in a likeable film that embraces diversity.
Sailboat (Julian Atocani Sanchez), a seven-year-old boy of Hispanic background, resides in an unbearably hot desert town on the brink of desertion. His soul-stirring performance of ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ for his hospital ridden ‘Abuela’ (grandmother in Spanish), succeeds in forging a relationship between the community and Sailboat’s otherwise marginalised family.
Sailboat’s determination to perform in-person for his Abuela sets in motion his quirky mission to learn the ins-and-outs of music. He does this while navigating the struggles of a disadvantaged, albeit loving, family whose house is literally held-up by an inward sticking beam.
Told with an offbeat sense of humour familiar to films based in small rural towns, the difficulties of Sailboat’s family – including his tough-looking but caring father (Noel Gugliemi) and reclusive mother (Elizabeth De Razzo) – talk to present-day racial tensions which threaten to divide America.
Australian director Cameron Nugent, who has worked predominantly as an actor in shows including Round the Twist, Blue Heelers and City Homicide, musters up an endearing tale carried off the back of Sanchez’s performance. The benevolent way Sailboat demystifies the complexities of life as a series of proverbs, expressed in the film’s narration, handed down to him by his Abuela, is where the film gathers its glowing charm.
It is not unusual for Sailboat and his friend Peeti (Keanu Wilson), a soccer-obsessed boy that never blinks, to wander through the town and engage with adults and strangers. The exchanges include conversations with JK Simmons (who despite featuring prevalently in the film’s marketing appears fleetingly), a deeply southern car salesman. It is quite confronting in 2019 to see such interactions, with Nugent taking necessary precautions to mitigate viewer worry. He, unfortunately, does not always succeed.
Nugent expresses optimism for the future through the unifying and prodigious talents of Sailboat – highlighting Hispanic excellence and the sweet grace of inclusion. Only when Nugent feels the need to flex his creative chops, complicating scenes to the point of exposing the film’s wires, does A Boy Called Sailboat lose steam.
Regardless, there is much to be admired about Nugent’s charming tale about family, culture, and inclusion. Just don’t expect a lot of JK Simmons.
Big winner at the SF3 Smartfone Flick Fest, as well as screening at Flickerfest, St Kilda Film Festival and CinefestOZ, Joel Perlgut's riotous black comedy starring Jared Jekyll, Vic Zerbst, Stephanie King and Tony Nikolakopoulos, premieres online.
The co-founder of Aquarius Films (Lion, Berlin Syndrome, The Unlisted) discusses transitioning from short films to one of Australia’s most exciting production companies at Screen Producers Australia’s Screen Forever.