Screens Clear and present danger

Dana Brown goes from ocean to desert for the world's most grueling derby in 'Dust to Glory'

Spectators at the annual Baja 1000 off-road race push perilously close to the contestants, who speed 1,000 miles across the desert for the thrill and fleeting glory.

It's an understatement to say that documentary director Dana Brown enjoys living dangerously.

His first film, 2003's Step Into Liquid, dove head first into the world of global surfers. 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 considered one of the longest, most challenging, and death-defying competitions ever held.

"I had been to Baja, Mexico before," Brown told the Current at Austin's Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental Hotel during the South By Southwest Film Festival. "I've gone to ride motorcycles. I've gone to surf. I thought I knew it."

What Brown didn't know when he first decided to take on Dust to Glory was the intensity and unpredictability of the race, which allows anyone with a vehicle to enter. Driving Volkswagon Beetles, trophy trucks, motorcycles, and class-one dune buggies, racing teams 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."

The Baja 1000 is not only risky for the racers. Brown 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 10 feet 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."

Dust to Glory

Dir. and writ. Dana Brown (PG)
In addition to the motorists and the crowd, Brown said his mind was always on the safety of his own film team who used close to 60 cameras throughout the contest to capture some of the film's amazing shots.

"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 participate in the Baja 1000, such as Malcolm Smith and Ricky Johnson, are individuals of courage and heart. However, it is Mike "Mouse" McCoy's story that most strongly conveys the determination possessed by the contestants. Dust to Glory follows McCoy, the only driver in the race's 38-year history to attempt to complete the course 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."

By Kiko Martinez


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