INDIANAPOLIS, Oct. 22, 2015 – In 1979, the film “Breaking Away” brought out the heart-pounding drama of bicycle racing in Bloomington, Ind.. At the 2015 Heartland Film Festival, the film “One Day in April” revisits the ongoing drama of the race and the dedication of its participants.
Creating a film around a race is difficult at best. The story begins before the race, well before the riders or the film makers know who will emerge victorious. The filmmaker can’t cover every team, but he wants to be covering the winning team, to produce the storybook ending.
For director Thomas Miller the choices were whittled down to two men’s teams and two women’s teams, based on their recent performances and their coaches’ willingness to get involved. Of the teams chosen, one of his women’s teams won, and one of his men’s teams was just one officials’ call away from winning.
Through many short interviews with the participants, we get a glimpse into the world of college bicycle racing and soon realize it’s a small world. As Miller, a 2012 graduate of Indiana University (where the Little 500 is a grand tradition) said in the Q&A session following the film’s showing, “There is nothing at the end of the road” for these cyclists. No career path. “Maybe one guy, in several years, has gone on to being a pro. You win, and everybody forgets about it.” Inspiring, no?
Throughout the movie, this reviewer was annoyed by the overly loud and pointless music that blasted forth during too much of the film, perhaps attempting to compensate for the lack of compelling content. Maybe it’s just a generational thing, or maybe it’s my old music degree getting in the way of personal enjoyment. It turns out that Miller’s name was in the credits as the composer. The man is dedicated. You have to give him that.
Gaining the trust of the subjects was the most difficult challenge Miller faced. “You have to convince them that you’re not going to hose them,” he told the Heartland Film Festival audience. “We wanted tension, but we didn’t want ‘reality TV.’”
As the film progressed, the audience became aware of greater openness on the part of the race participants, and by the day of the race, even the protest that the second-place men’s coach lodged was covered. Even the officials cooperated. Miller gained that kind of trust as he filmed his story−and theirs.
All the production people had been involved in the race as well, enabling us to get a good look at the process, the ‘inside baseball’ preparation. But we learned nothing about the bikes themselves, preparing them or maintaining them. Nor did we learn anything about the riders’ training regimens, diets, specific exercises, sleep cycles or even how the intense training fit into the students’ academic life. In fact, we learned very little about the students themselves or their personal sacrifices and dedication.
One nearly interesting but unexplored side note concerned a road accident involving one of the men. On a training ride on a rainy highway, an oncoming car crossed the center stripe and wiped out three riders on the Cutters team, nearly killing then-19-year-old Eric Brodell and inflicting what could have been crippling injuries.
Brodell fought back (we know this because we see him riding again), but we didn’t get much insight on the process. Worse, we learned nothing of the identity, fate or angst of the 24-year-old driver who locked up his car’s brakes on the rainy road and slid into that unfortunate group of riders.
But, that said, “One Day in April” is already too long. It delivers too little content. The musical score is, well, it’s not my taste. At best, it leaves the non-racing audience with some thin and mostly unpleasant memories of their college days.
As a documentary on the Little 500, the film can be useful. Its “stars” will certainly enjoy the professional look of the camera work and the quotes and quips and bits of wisdom that occasionally break through, as when Delta Tau Delta coach Courtney Bishop loses his protest: “If you don’t want to get beat on the last play or beat on a ref’s call, be up by two touchdowns.” True, that. Actually, the most entertaining two minutes of the film come from Bishop’s house, where the big coach is working out with his tiny and eager 5-year-old son.
So, who should see this movie? If you are a college bicycle racing fan or a former racer, or if you’re in high school now and want to race a bike in college, go see it. And if you’d like to help the filmmakers (all 2012 Indiana University graduates) Thomas Miller, BAJ; Peter Stevenson, BA; Kirsten Powell, BA; and Ryan Black– fund the scholarship they established to help fellow IU student film makers. If you would see the trailer for the film, visit www.onedayinapril.com