Welcome to Motos on Film, a look at movies about motorcycles and motorcycle life. Got a movie you’d suggest? Send a note to [email protected], and maybe we’ll watch it next month! Disagree with the assessment of a movie? Leave a note in the comments below.


An offroad rider rolls into the frantic scene of a roadside pit stop in the desert. Concerned family members and crew mill about, everyone with a job, taking care of the race bike, or the rider who jumps off, switching to a new pilot for the next section. The rider getting off the bike yells some information on the competing team; a pickup truck blasts by in the opposite direction of the race course, only a few feet away from the pitted crew. Is it another team’s crew, racing to deal with a breakdown? Spectators? In the dust, dirt, and hyper-focus on winning, nobody notices, knows, or cares.

Welcome to The Desert Said Dance, a feature-length film on the 2019 Baja 1000.

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These days, the Baja 1000 is probably the most famous desert race in North America, and that is probably partly due to to a previous film. In 2005, Dana Brown’s Dust to Glory showed the race as a whole, with a look at trophy trucks and other four-wheeled competition, and the race’s history, but with a focus on the ironman race effort of Mike “Mouse” McCoy.

The Desert Said Dance is solely focused on motorcycle racers. Photo: The Desert Said Dance

The entire length of this new feature from Mojave Productions and Monster Children Films is all bikes all the time. It’s focused on a single four-man team of Forrest Minchinton, Derek Ausserbauer, Nic Garvin and Colton Udall.

Baja fans will probably recognize all those names, and even casual desert or enduro racing fans should recognize Garvin and Udall’s names. All these guys have serious racing cred, but Ausserbauer in particular is known for his Ironman class achievements in SCORE events, and Udall is a five-time winner of the Baja 1000 race. Garvin is an ISDE competitor, and we don’t see much of him in the first half of the film as a result—he was competing in Europe while the three other riders were prepping for the race.

As for Minchinton, he’s an interesting character (with family ties to Bruce Brown), serving double duty as a racer in the film, but also as a producer. When he’s not racing dirt bikes, Minchinton earns a living by shaping surfboards and his LinkedIn also lists him as “Manage of Culture and Events at Deus Ex Machina Motorcycles.” Further down, it says he’s worked in production of surf and motorcycle media production, and has contributed to motorcycle art magazine META. Watching the movie, that shows.

The first half of the film looks like this for most of the riding footage. It gets old. Photo: Mojave Productions

The first half of the film, showing the run-up to the race, is under-saturated. You see a lot of brown dirt and washed-out blues, like the cameraman left an Instagram filter on, or thought they were shooting a Lana Del Rey music video. I get it, you want to show cool wheelies silhouetted against the skyline, and make the movie look contemporary and hip. It gets kind of old after a while, though. Really, movie director Lincoln Caplice is the person who’s responsible for this; no doubt his background in hip marketing campaigns for brands like Deus Ex Machina, Corona Extra or Universal Music influenced his aesthetic.

It’s not that the film looks bad—it’s just that the constant dark and broody picture doesn’t reflect the vibrancy of these racers, their environment, or what they’re doing.

This changes when the riders actually get to race day, as the director is forced to film throughout the sunlight hours instead of plotting shoots to coincide with dramatic sunsets and sunrises.

The whole tone of the movie shifts at this point. Now, we see tense riders at pit stops, awaiting their turn on the Honda 450, instead of relaxed free-wheeling and pre-running. The desert colors are more vibrant. The riding footage of the racers has a lot more determination. These guys are racing against the clock, and against themselves. Looking good for the camera is a distant thought.

 

You get a lot of helicopter footage, but very little GoPro perspective. I think that’s a good thing, in the age of energy drinks and flat-brimmed ball caps. Photo: Mojave Productions

Interestingly, while there’s lots of helicopter footage, there’s almost no on-the-bike footage. In an age of GoPro, the director made the decision not use barely any first-person perspective. I think it fits the film’s theme well.

Unfortunately for the team, the race day doesn’t go according to plan; mechanical issues kill their chance at the win, although they still power through the problem to a very respectable finish. Afterwards, we get some post-race thoughts, as to why they do it all.

It’s OK, but I think if they could have extracted these thoughts out of the riders through the tenseness of the race day, it might have been more impactful. This was the highlight of the film to me, the edgy riders acknowledging the risks, their family worried about them, and their rise to the challenge. I would have loved to see more of this tension packed into the first half, although it’s possible these guys are so laid-back outside the race that it just wasn’t possible. Perhaps the director could have cut a few minutes of the pre-race build-up and achieved the same effect.

The film gives us plenty of beach riding footage, showing the fun of Baja pre-running. Photo: Mojave Productions

These are mostly nitpicks, though, and I certainly don’t have my own film catalog to prove I could do better. With the exception of the annoying, constant Instagram-worthy posing in the first half, it really did a good job of explaining who these guys are, and how they ended up where they were. I particularly liked the interviews with Udall, explaining his transition from high-flying Baja blaster to more of a senior statesman role on this team.

One thing I really liked about the film: Most of the soundtrack was terrific. A combination of driving synth instrumentals (reminding me somewhat of some Hans Zimmer’s work on Blade Runner 2049) along with hipster anthems from The Brian Jonestown Massacre was the perfect accompaniment. This was the work of Jackson Milas and Andrew Lancaster, working for SONAR, and it was a highlight.

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The Desert Said Dance had its world premiere at the Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival in fall of 2021. I watched it through the festival’s screening service. Going forward, it is about to hit at other film festivals and in-theater screenings. You can line up an in-person viewing there, or watch it when streaming services pick it up.

The madness of pit stops. The frantic race day action was the best part of the movie, from my perspective. Photo: Monster Children Films

It has technically proficient production, but if you’re looking for a second Dust to Glory, this isn’t it. Dust to Glory was bright, colorful, and spent a lot of time focusing on the race as a whole. The Desert Said Dance is more dark and brooding (it’s dedicated to fallen racers Carlin Dunne and Jeff “Ox” Kargola), and it’s focused exclusively on the people who race motorcycles at Baja.

If you’re into that, I do think it’s well worth a watch. This movie isn’t going to create a whole generation of Baja fans, like Dana Brown’s film did, but will give the race’s keenest fans a closer look at the people behind the event. If you’re into desert racing, then you probably want to watch this film. If you aren’t into desert racing, watch Dust to Glory first, and then you’ll probably want to watch this film.

For more details on The Desert Said Dance, visit the Monster Children Films website. Upcoming screenings should appear there soon.

One other note: Since filming this project, racer Nic Garvin was involved in a very serious crash at the 2021 Baja 500 event. Friend and teammate Derek Asserbauer has organized this GoFundMe effort here, to help with his medical bills.

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