Marshall Curry's doc "Racing Dreams" has so far had a good festival run, winning the prize for best doc at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it debuted last Spring, and screening at the prestigious SilverDocs festival in June. At the Hamptons International Film Festival over the weekend, it screened to a complimentary audience, but the film's major coup here was the setting of its after-party. In a nod to one of the 20th century's most famous docs, "Grey Gardens," lucky invitees were treated to a look at the home of "Big Edie" and "Little Edie," the setting of the Maysles brothers seminal 1975 documentary.
There were a lot of ooooohs! and awwwwws! from people entering the now pristine yet definitely recognizeable mansion near Georgica Beach, hidden behind a well-manicured but tall hedge in this very posh area of East Hampton. There was a bit of irony with last night's event -- the Grey Gardens setting seemed light years away from Curry's film - a look at three pre-teens with NASCAR aspirations, making their way through the World Karting Association's National Championship. The three, Annabeth, 11, Josh, 12 and Brandon, 13, travel the go-kart circuit hoping to one day break into the world of NASCAR, one of America's most popular pastimes.
"Racing is something I didn't know about [before the film], nor that it was the second most popular spectator sport in this country," Curry said introducing the screening. "One of the greatest things about doing documentaries is you get to spend a year or so learning about something you don't know much about."
While the well crafted film would most certainly find a built-in audience among the throng of NASCAR fans, audiences who don't share an appreciation - including this writer - for racing are, nevertheless, drawn into the story of the three because the film also serves as a window into the challenges and tribulations of kids on the cusp of becoming teenagers. Annabeth loves racing, but also worries about her hair, boys and her friendships. Brandon is disciplined at school for fighting and his temper, but at home he is being brought up by his grandparents with an occasional visit by his aloof drug-addict father, and Josh lives in a well-adjusted religious family who struggle to pay for the mounting costs of his passion and promise.
"I had an idea to do the film after reading an article, so I took a camera to North Carolina. I didn't know about 12 year-olds, and when I arrived, people said to me, 'have you talked to this Josh Hebron kid?'" After I met him, I knew this was going to be good." Curry went on to say get received the go-ahead from the film financing company and proceeded to widdle down two more subjects among 75 potentials.
"We shot for about a year, and early on I knew it wasn't just going to be a movie about a kid competition. [I wanted] it to be about what it's like to be 10 - 12 and their personal situations - budding first romances, peer pressure etc. - just what it's like growing up.
Later at Grey Gardens, the film's executive producer, Jack Turner of film company White Buffalo, only gave a hint at how they scored Grey Gardens for their party. I mean, I've been going to the Hamptons Film Festival for eight years now, and I only knew the place still existed but didn't know where, and to the best of my knowledge, there has never been a festival party there.
"We were able to finagel a deal," said Turner. "There was a personal connection through the film." Well, there it is - somebody knew somebody... The rumor at the party though is that the property's present owners, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and wife Sally Quinn, stay in the home in August, otherwise it's rented out for the remaining 11 months of the year for $250,000. But rumors are rumors...
Still, it was quite a sight to see festival veterans wide-eyed in front of the staircase where "Little Edie" danced with an American flag in the Maysles doc, or even peering into the room where "Big Edie" spent most of her day with cats and cookingware bedside.
"We thought it would be fun to have a party for a documentary film at a place where one of the most famous docs in the world had been filmed," said Turner, a former acquisitions exec for a previous incarnation of United Artists. "And it was our impetus to get as many filmmakers out here. It's something, I couldn't have imagined it." Turner then turned to "Racing Dreams," lavishing compliments on Curry saying he's "one of the most talented directors working in documentary today" as exhibited in his previous work on "Street Fight" and "Waking Dreams." "Marshall can find something like racing and turn it into something much more complex," he added.
There were also rumors that NASCAR had pressured the production to edit certain scenes from the film, including non-flattering shots of fans and an alleged Confederate flag.
"NASCAR was not involved with the filmmaking process whatsoever," said Turner emphatically. While the film has still surprisingly not found a distribution home, he said that they are in talks with the organization to be a part of the project's marketing and distribution strategy.
And as for Grey Gardens - the party continued well into the night.