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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.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.