Director Yousry Mansour revealed after the screening that he doesn't even ride a bicycle, so it is indeed an exploration of his fascination of the sport, more so the people behind it and its enthusiasts, in this documentary that examines why these folks do what they do, despite having it difficult with little or no official recognition and funding, only fueled by personal passion in continuing to do what they do, despite plenty of negative connotations being unfairly associated with them.
Think of dirt bikes and first thing that crosses your mind might be the noise, dangerous driving and probably the Mat Rempit wannabe posers. But as an extreme sport just like any other, the participants know the rules of engagement, and keep their daredevil antics within the confines of a circuit, with as much safety features built in for self-protection, just like any sport would require. And the participants range from 5 year old kids, to Singapore Girls too, as the documentary contains enough talking heads, each providing you their personal perspective of the sport, as well as touching on various aspects of it, from raving about the fun, to ranting about the hassle of going up north to Malaysia.
You see, like any other non-official sport or events, funding is hard to come by, and naturally, a circuit operating in Singapore is expensive to maintain. As we're told, the previous track in Loyang had to be closed because of lack of maintenance, and it just deteriorated. At the time of filming this documentary, Yousry had opted to follow the enthusiast up north to Ayer Hitam in Johor for the Johor Motorcross Masters 2007, where we see a carnival like atmosphere on the race grounds, complete with band performances. Well actually, only 1 race was covered, which was a pity as I thought that more races would be given ample screentime, but I guess the nature of the sport is not the focus here.
Instead, it was rather Kwok-family centric, with the son showcasing and giving us clueless folks a quick 101 guide to the sport, starting with the nuts and bolts of building and finetuning a dirt bike, the high-technology behind it, to making a business out of his passion, and sharing the usual grouses that local bikers have to go through to participate in races in Malaysia, such as the weekly ritual of packing up and loading their bikes into vans, the administration with all the custom and immigration requirements. It's quite an expensive sport to adopt as a hobby, making it quite exclusive in my opinion.
As with most documentaries, there are always lessons learnt and pointers picked up along the way, and I realize there are subtle differences between a dirt bike for racing, and one which is road legal. And I thought Yousry was onto something when the narrative launched into a keen observation of how money and the lure of the tourism dollar has recently boosted motor sports in general with the glitz and glamour of F1 (compared to this rather indie scene) that the local authorities seem to have in mind to milk, but this came rather too little and too late, because it makes for interesting parallels with any other indie activity in our island state too, with the likes of the local music scene, and hey, even SIFF too. What we got instead was a rather curious 5 minute group rambling discussion at a secret location in Punggol toward the end.
As a first film, Dirt Out did seem a little like a home made video, with a bit of wanting found in the sound department, especially where the race bikes tend to drown out the interviewees voice, or outdoor shots having the wind wreck havoc. But these glitches aside, which can probably be spruced up given a more professional job in post production (this indie documentary was DIY by the way), it served its purpose as an introduction to the sport and its people, who don't take no for an answer, and are not restraint in wanting to pursue their dream of an extreme sport that they love.
I guess with the relatively new Circuit@Tuas set up, and with the documentary now introducing its audience to the venue, perhaps participants of the sport will start to increase when more people become aware of it.
There was a Q&A session after the screening with director Yousry Mansour. As usual, in the interest of (my) time, this is only an excerpt, and I have paraphrased (for the better I hope) for clarity and readability. For those who are spoiler wary, please read something else. You have been warned.
Q: How did you start thinking about this project? How long did it take from filming to post production?
A: We started filming it in Sep 2007 and the last day of filming was on 12 Jan 2008. We completed editing and post production on the 1st week of Feb 2008. In fact we had started editing it in Dec 07 and were still filming it as well.
Q: Could you tell us a bit of the process in making Dirt Out, was it do-it-yourself, or you had a crew?
A: The crew consists of me and my friend who was the cameraman. Someone else did the editing. In fact he's only 16 years old, and he's my son! I didn't edit the film because I don't believe in being a jack of all trades. How I started the film, was when my cameraman told me of his friend who travls to Malaysia to practice dirt biking. Initially the idea didn't attract me, but he came again with 2 hours worth of tapes and material, and showed me the video in which I only saw a race, and I still wasn't interested because I don't even ride a bicycle! Finally I was invited to see those guys, sat down and listened to their stories, an dthen I decided to make a film out of it. It made me realize that there are many talented and unrecognized people, in many fields out there.
Yousry also shared that the Ayer Hitam race was one of the major races, and during the editing phase, he was that there were may different laps in the race, that he decided to have the film cut according to the style of the race, and interspersed it throughout.
Also present during today's screening were some real bikers in the audience, as well as a New Zealander dirt biker who was initially quite depressed as there was no bike culture here, until he discovered their online presence, and learnt of their activities here in Singapore.
The SIFF Singapore Filmmakers Interview Series
Kan Lume, Writer-Director of Dreams From The Third World
HAN Yew Kwang, Writer-Director of 18 Grams of Love
ENG Yee Peng, Director of Diminishing Memories II
Sherman ONG, Screenwriter-Director of Hashi
James LEONG and Lynn LEE, Directors of Homeless FC
Lionel CHOK, Producer of To Speak
Harman HUSSIN, Director of Road to Mecca