Documentary Releases: Out of Nothing (2017) - Reviewed

One of the wonders of the documentary film format is the ability to take a subject that is either second nature to some or alien to others and make it universally appealing.  I’ll admit I know next to nothing about the motorcycle land speed racing competition, the technology behind the passion or the people involved and yet by the end of Chad DeRosa’s documentary feature film debut Out of Nothing, my eyes were opened up to a whole new world I would have otherwise remained completely unaware of.  Shot over the course of two years funded by Kickstarter, the film follows four motorcycle speed racers and details in full all the blood, sweat and tears which went into realizing their dreams to break each other’s respective world records for top speed.  If you recall the 2005 film The World’s Fastest Indian with Anthony Hopkins, you’ve an idea of the terrain ahead of you.

Initially playing a bit like an informercial with some engineering and mechanical dialogue only true enthusiasts would understand, Out of Nothing kicks into high gear once these four reach the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  As we share with them the exhilarating thrills, devastating setbacks and personal triumphs each racer experiences, the film showcases vehicular design and speed racing technology the likes of which have never been seen before.  Thanks to the digital age and GoPro, we’re now able to experience some of the most up, close and personal footage of motorcycle land speed racing captured by cameras yet.  Of course the human drama is as integral to this story as the vehicles themselves, shedding light on each racer’s own personal struggles with anxiety, disappointments and finding room to squeeze in some spare time to work on their motorcycles amid managing their families and ordinary lives. 

Much like the mountain climbing documentary Meru or the hot air balloon documentary Don’t Look Down, Out of Nothing’s primary aim is to give voice to the daredevil’s passion and attempt to understand why these four put their lives on the line for something that could make or break them in an instant.  Early on in the film, we’re treated to footage of an accident during a race and a particularly touching aside involving a racer who found a way to press on after an accident claimed his lower legs.  Even if it’s something we would never do, you find yourself empathizing with these four and want to see them succeed at doing what they love, making moments of setbacks including a flash flood in the desert ala Lost in La Mancha and a series of mechanical problems plaguing one racer all the more heartbreaking.  

As the filmmakers themselves noted, not everything they set out to do is captured here and the film which originally premiered in 2014 remained without a distributor until now.  Successful or not, I was elated by the end of Out of Nothing for providing a lens to a world I hadn’t seen before with all the trials and tribulations in full view.  Chad DeRosa shows promise with his first documentary and no doubt will be looking forward to what he has up his sleeve next!

- Andrew Kotwicki