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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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