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The Doc Days of Summer: “Racing Dreams”

The Doc Days of Summer: “Racing Dreams” (photo)

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It’s been just over a year since “Racing Dreams” played to standing ovations at the Tribeca Film Festival. The response that wasn’t entirely unexpected, given the pedigree of its Oscar-nominated director Marshall Curry (“Street Fight,” the acclaimed doc about Newark mayor Cory Booker), but it was a little unlikely because of the movie’s subject matter.

New Yorkers aren’t known for their love of NASCAR, but still the festival (rightly) bestowed its best documentary prize on Curry’s year-in-the-life of three go-kart racers — the 11-year-old Annabeth Barnes, 12-year-old Josh Hobson and 13-year-old Brandon Warren — entering a make-or-break period in their professional and personal lives.

“I feel like that age of 11, 12, 13 is so crucial to creating who we are,” said Curry, who shot over 500 hours of footage of the trio who find that they need to be as agile in handling the pressures of school and family life as they are behind the clutch of 100 mile-per-hour go-karts.

Curry “probably couldn’t have named two NASCAR drivers if you asked me to” when shooting started, but found the subject while visiting his Southern in-laws and soon discovered the breeding ground for the nation’s second biggest spectator sport after football, the World Karting Association’s National Series, which has groomed such superstars as Jeff Gordon (who appears briefly in the film when a precocious Hobson seeks out his advice).

07102010_RacingDreams3.jpg“Racing” may be the primary preoccupation of the young drivers, as it is with the film’s title, but there’s far more to the film than its title would have you believe. Curry deployed the canny maneuver of keeping a minimal crew while filming the daily lives of Annabeth, Josh and Brandon, the latter of whom has a particularly wrenching relationship with a largely absentee father, and filming the racing scenes with multiple cameras and dedicated crews for each of the three kids.

The result is an unobtrusive look at adolescence where the action at home is captured as scrupulously as it is on the track, so much so that one of the film’s most inspired narrative devices — a spotlight on the drivers as they race to smooth out any confusion as to who’s in a particular go-kart — was only stumbled upon after other options weren’t considered vérité enough. (“If you have a big graphic that’s dropped into the middle of a scene, you feel like you’re watching TV instead of watching a race,” said Curry.)

“Annabeth’s mom would say, ‘who’s going to narrate this thing and how’s it going to work?’ and I’d say, it’s not going to be like that,” Curry described how he pitched it to the kids’ parents. “She just couldn’t really get her brain around it and when she finally saw it, she said, ‘That’s not like a documentary at all. That’s just a movie.’ That’s sort of the highest compliment you could say to a documentary filmmaker.”

07102010_RacingDreams4.jpgIn fact, “Racing Dreams” is already bound to adapted into a feature beyond its nonfiction roots, having been optioned by “Star Trek” writer/producers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman to become a DreamWorks production, and the documentary has prepared its young stars well for their closeup.

“When they came to New York [for Tribeca], none of the families had ever been to New York,” Curry said, “and in part because Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is one of our executive producers, it drew this great paparazzi crowd and there’s Annabeth Barnes standing in front of a racecar as a hundred photographers are snapping her picture… ‘Annabeth, look over here, Annabeth, Annabeth!’ You would’ve thought she just did this every day of her life the way she was kind of standing there and smiling.”

Without spoiling the film’s epilogue, Curry reports two of the drivers have gone on to full-sized racecars and all three kids are doing well. As for Curry, he’s resumed work on a doc about the controversial environmental activist Daniel McGowan, who was convicted of arson to timber facilities in Oregon. (Curry, who was working both on that and “Racing Dreams” concurrently, joked, “[The MacGowan doc] is pretty interesting, but while I was shooting, it was always a challenge to shift gears between kids who race go-karts and radical environmentalists.”)

“Racing Dreams” is now open in New York and will open in Los Angeles on July 23rd.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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