Road: Interviews on the red carpet
A new documentary about the dangerous and daring sport of road racing, Road centres around Northern Ireland’s notorious road racing family, the Dunlops. This film is not just for road racing fanatics – the story of the Dunlop boys, past and present, is albeit very tragic, but also truly remarkable. Road captures the sport in its most compelling and exhilarating guise, from the perspective of the man on the motorbike who risks all.
The Upcoming caught up with road racer William Dunlop, directors Diarmuid Lavery and Mike Hewitt, as well as the BBC’s MotoGP presenter Suzi Perry to discuss the new film.
Diarmuid and Mike, what made you want to make a documentary about the Dunlops?
Diarmuid Lavery: The Dunlops are the road racing family. We come from Northern Ireland, from Belfast, and they belong to us. We wanted to tell their story, what we thought was an immense story, and a story that we thought could be brought to a wider audience not normally interested in road racing. Mike and I both have been interested in the sport for most of our lives, we have relatives who are more than interested. In fact we have made another film that featured Robert Dunlop 20-odd years ago. So we have continued interest and passion for the sport, and are big fans, of course, of the Dunlop brothers (Michael and William).
Mike Hewitt: We were able to go back to the earlier film and use some of the footage from that. So, in fact, there is a sequence with Robert with a three-year-old Michael on his knee.
How easy was it just to let the story unravel in the film?
MH: It’s a real-life story, but it is pure drama as well. We often tried to keep in mind the fact that there will be people watching it who do not know much about road racing and do not know how the story concludes. But those events in 2008, if you had written it as fiction people would have been like “Come on you are pushing it a bit here” – it was just extraordinary. Diarmuid was at the race, and with the scenes and the emotions, that’s when the film started, that day.
How closely did you work with the Dunlops when making the film?
DL: We worked quite closely with them, we filmed with Michael and William throughout the 2012 season, almost every road race we went to with them. It was total immersion, and they were fantastic, they let us in completely, and that was an important element with the film. We knew through the archive – through the backstories of Joey and Robert Dunlop, and the history of their wonderful careers, but ultimately tragic lives – we knew what was there to be told and we could structure that quite easily. But as part of that we wanted it to be an immersive experience, so that when someone goes to see this film they also somehow understand the nature of the sport: the thrill and the dangers.
We wanted to be true to it, we did not want to gild in any kind of way, we wanted to show it as it was. But at the same time we had to represent the fact that these are young men have the time of their lives, doing something that a lot of other young men admire them for. It is their job, their career, their livelihood, but it is also a way of life, and no more so with the Dunlops. With each generation its just bred into them.
How do you think the film will be received by a wider audience?
MH: We are very hopeful. We know that it has already been picked up internationally – in Germany and Switzerland – and we hope that will build. But it has been so well-received through reviews, and word is getting out. Obviously, having Liam Neeson onboard won’t do any harm.
How did that come about?
MH: We always felt that there was only one person to narrate this, and we wrote him and said exactly that. He grew up just ten miles down the road from where the boys grew up, so he’s both local to the story but also represents how its an international story as well, so he kind of encapsulated all of that. Of course he also put in a marvellous performance in telling the story.
William, can you talk a little about Northern Ireland’s relationship with road racing?
William Dunlop: You get it in some other countries, but it is pretty special in Northern Ireland. The Irish boys are all really passionate about it. If anyone says anything bad about it they could be banned from the country! Only really a select bunch know and follow road racing in England, but in Northern Ireland everyone tends to know about it.
How much has road racing changed since your dad and uncle started out in the sport?
WD: It is much more serious now, and more of a business, and maybe a lot less fun. There is a lot more pressure, a lot of teams get involved and it is a business to them. The health and safety has come in a bit now as well, so it is less dangerous than it used to be. Some circuits are now very safe, and that takes the fun out of it.
Some people have referred to road racers as lunatics, how does that sit with you?
WD: Seen from the outside, yes it does look like we are just plain idiots. I’ve watched it from the outside, and it does look crazy. But I have been involved in the sport for 12 years now, and it is thrilling and when you are on the bike you feel in control, so it is not just completely reckless.
Has there ever been a moment when you have felt like giving up racing altogether?
WD: Maybe if I could…but I’m not equipped to do anything else. It is my job now, and all I’ve got.
What was it like being involved in the film, and revisiting a pretty tragic past?
WD: It made me feel really proud. Some people maybe see it as very sad; there are bits that are quite hard to watch. It’s hard to feel sorry for Joey and my dad, because they were fully aware of the danger they put themselves in when racing. But for my grandmother, you see in the film just how hard it has been for her to deal with.
Suzi, what did you think of the film?
Suzi Perry: I thought it was extraordinary – I think it was one of the greatest sport films I’ve ever seen. I sobbed throughout the second half of it, even though I knew what was going to happen. I think it was beautifully put together, in a very raw way. The footage was tremendous, and they pushed it and showed a lot more than I thought they would show. When you watch it you think it’s like Hollywood, but it’s Ireland and it’s the Dunlop boys. I have the greatest of respect for all that take part in road racing. In the film you see just how difficult it is, and the things a racer has to deal with, and what the Dunlop boys have had to deal with. It’s an extraordinary tale.
What kind of person do you think it takes to be a road racer?
SP: It takes a really unique person to go road racing. A lot of people wrongly say they have a death wish but I just don’t agree with that at all. It seems to me the the thrill outweighs the possibilities of harm – and they know them, they are very aware of what can happen. It’s their life, and I think if you said to them: “If you had ten million pounds in the bank, would you still race?” They would all just say “Yes.” It’s an extraordinary person that does that, and we can’t possibly understand their mindset, but this film takes you closer to it.
There is no safety in road racing. To be a road racer you have to have a very blinkered and unique mindset. But they are not mad, they are just normal down-to-earth people.
Road was released on 11th June 2014, read our review here.
Watch the trailer for Road here: