Motor sports on the big screen: Auto Moto roars to life this week

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Attention, race fans: This week we’ll see the return of the Auto Moto Film & Arts Festival, “an event that embraces all the incredible aspects of our emotional attachment to all things motoring."

Of course, the Motor City is the perfect venue for films about international motor sports, and the festival features its fair share of stories that are guaranteed to be a hit with the Dream Cruise set. Among them are Penton: The John Penton Story, a documentary about the American motorcycle pioneer, Racing Through the Forest, a look back at the Pebble Beach races of the 1950s, or The Montana Dodge Boys, about a group of Treasure State gearheads who fabricate a 1928 roadster and race it at Bonneville.

But there’s still more to this festival of film than classic cars and classic car guys. The films cover a surprising range of subjects. Take, for instance, Klocked: Women with Horsepower: The film tells the story of female motorcycle land speed record-holders Laura Klock and her two daughters Erika and Karlee Cobb. The family team has been setting records on the Bonneville Salt Flats since 2008, showing that racing dynasties aren’t always a male thing.

Even more eye-opening is Sisters of Speed, a documentary chronicling the first all-women race car driving team in the Middle East that’s “tearing up tracks all over Palestine.” Who knew there were improvised racetracks in the West Bank? Or that race fans came out in droves to cheer these women on? It sounds fascinating.

The international flavor doesn’t stop there. The Road to Monterey is about Englishman Ron Goodman trying to get his Porsche 356 to the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, probably the top historic racing event in the United States. Similarly, From Prague to Pebble or Bust follows a group attempting to drive a 1968 Tatra 603 from Prague to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California, dreaming of showing it off there. Squadra Corsa concerns the Italian racing team at Polytechnic University of Turin, which builds a single-seat racer each year, competing (and winning) against other schools throughout Europe. Then there’s Old Man’s Car, an up-close and personal look at Brazilian car designer Anísio Campos, who designed eye-catching automobiles from 1960 to 1990. There’s even a bit of Canadian content as well: 100-Year Road, a Calgary-to-Edmonton road trip in centennial vehicles, using a century-old road guide; and Bone Stocks, a documentary about a tightly knit community of Canadian stock car racers.

The pitfalls and dangers of racing are also prominent in this program of documentaries. Godspeed: The Story of Page Jones is the story of a racer’s decades-long recovery from traumatic brain injury, and the exhilarating The Art of Moto, for all its slow-motion shots of airborne bikers, also grapples with the pain and tears of loss and injury.

If this course of documentaries has some unexpected twists and turns, that’s by design. We spoke with one of the festival’s organizers, Fred Lo Bianco, and he said they made a conscious effort to showcase films that looked beyond the hardware and focused on the spirit of the people behind the wheel.

After screening the films and deciding on which to include, Lo Bianco says, “We started to see there really was a great depth and a huge, wide margin of diversity on who was doing these films. … We seem to attract that, which has really energized us. We’re trying to do is something that’s more inclusive, instead of just the same old stuff, whether it’s racing for pink slips or trying to build a car in 10 minutes.”

In fact, the Auto Moto festival has earned a reputation in years past by including such unusual films as South American Cho-Low, all about low-rider culture in Brazil, of all places, or Havana Motor Club, which is a look at Cuba’s underground drag racing scene.

Lo Bianco tells us, “The stuff that’s on commercial television, they find a formula that works and stick to it. Meanwhile, it’s so hard for these filmmakers to get an audience. Unless it fits a certain mold that’s highly commercial, it won’t get onto television or even the pay channels.”

He hopes that, with Auto Moto, he can help change that. And what better place to do it than the city that put the world on wheels?

The Auto Moto Film & Arts Festival runs May 12-14, at 1515 Broadway and the downtown YMCA; see for showtimes, tickets, and locations, as well as trailers for many of the films.

About The Author

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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