Living dangerously is an understatement for documentary director Dana Brown.
His first film, 2003’s “Step Into Liquid,” dove head first into the world of surfers from around the world. Now in “Dust to Glory,” Brown, 45, travels into the deserts of Mexico to capture the story of the Baja 1000, an annual off-road race which is considered one of the longest, most challenging and death-defying competitions ever to be assembled.
“I had been to Baja, Mexico before,” Brown told me at Austin’s Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental Hotel during the week of the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival. “I’ve gone to ride motorcycles. I’ve gone to surf. I though I knew it.”
What Brown didn’t know when he first decided to take on a project like “Dust to Glory” was the intensity and unpredictability of the race, which allows anyone with a vehicle to enter. From Volkswagon Beetles to trophy trucks to motorcycles to class-one dune buggies, the average racing team could rev their engines and hit the gas for the 1,000-mile event.
“I can’t go to the Daytona 500 and say, ‘Hey, I got a car here. I want to race,’” Brown said. “But here, you can. That was a refreshing thing. It’s the freedom that is involved.”
Not only risky for the racers, Brown also said he was worried about the 200,000 spectators who come to witness the the race every year and get dangerously close to the action. In the film, fans can be seen dodging the vehicles to snap pictures as the automobiles speed by not less than 10 feet away from the crowd.
“For the people of Baja this is like their Super Bowl,” Brown explained. “Some of these spectators get so close to getting hit, but they keep surging forward.”
Along with the motorists and the crowd, Brown said his mind was always on the safety of his own film team who used close to 60 camera to get some of the amazing shots throughout the contest.
“It was scary,” Brown said about production. “I was always thinking, I hope we don’t lose anyone in the crew. Those guys have to put themselves in the middle of everything to get the shot. Everything goes so fast. I told them, ‘Hey guys, do the best you can but don’t try and be a hero. It’s not worth it.’”
Although their names are not as familiar as Mario Andretti or Robbie Gordon, racers that make up the Baja 1000, including Malcolm Smith and Ricky Johnson, are individuals of courage and heart. However, it is Mike “Mouse” McCoy’s story that delivers the true sense of determination to the film. In “Dust to Glory,” McCoy is followed as the only driver in Baja’s 38-year history to attempt to complete the race alone.
“(McCoy’s) passion is like Dennis Hopper in ‘Apocalypse Now,’” Brown said. “For him to be right up there with the leaders, that guy was good. Racing, on any level, isn’t just about a race. It’s about the people that are in it.”