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Off the Road [Fuera del Camino] cover image

Off the Road [Fuera del Camino] 2020

Recommended with Reservations

Distributed by Pragda, 302 Bedford Ave., #136, Brooklyn, NY 11249
Produced by Zero Chill, Tardigrada (Guillermo Zouain, Wendy Muñiz, Daniela Silva, Jose Luis Villanueva, Osmany Rodriguez)
Directed by José Permar
Streaming, 78 mins

High School - General Adult
Auto Racing; Baja Peninsula; Mexico

Date Entered: 06/17/2022

Reviewed by Michael Pasqualoni, Librarian for Public Communications, Syracuse University Libraries

Off the Road aims its lenses at the 50th anniversary running of the Baja 1000, the world’s longest off-road auto race. In this feature length documentary film debut by José Permar, with a strong visual narrative from cinematographer Ernesto Trujillo, viewers visit these parched desert environments as the residents spend a year preparing for an event that will temporarily balloon population sizes of otherwise remote towns. Permar rightly lets the Baja Peninsula landscapes do much of the talking, while periodically joined by melodramatic vocals of a Greek chorus-like musical trio, whose guitars and sousaphone interject musical corridos that reflect on how these village cultures embrace this exciting and at times dangerous racing spectacle. From within the small community of Conquista Agraria, we visit what were once more thriving regions. Here, being part of a transient pitstop crew, or running a refreshment stand on an unnamed dirt road where the fullest extent of electrification is event dependent, has replaced a former local economy once tied to a booming international cotton trade. Entertainment districts of old are supplanted by entertainment that passes by on roads or laptop screens. The film is ethnographic in feeling and not interested in comprehensive scholarly or historical analysis of the race as an industry or corporate sponsored media happening. Yet the branded event and brand name consumer products swirl all about the film, even in off the grid towns where one may think consumerism slumbers.

We journey within three overlapping slices of life for individuals and families touched by the race. We join a father (Rigo) and daughter (Daniella) driving team and their patched together Toyotin Motorsporte truck, who are champions in shorter local races but dream of hitting it big in the prestigious Ensenada to La Paz Baja 1000. There is also Paco, a photojournalist whose loss of a close friend in a prior race sparks his campaign called, “Are you a responsible fan?,” looking to help the race run more safely and pushing back against those whose sport of choice is setting booby traps along the dusty roads. Davis, a former racer, helps build one of many pitstops for drivers enduring the competition, and acts the part of tour guide into the nostalgia for the area’s more vibrant economic past. There is a paradox operating in Off the Road with juxtaposing a multigenerational love of these vehicles at the center of the event and the dubious nature of the automobile and its externalities as a global industry. Some ranchers we hear balk at the garbage tossed by tourists and the dead goats the annual race leaves in its wake.

Minor weaknesses for those considering adopting the film in a college or school environment derive from some murkiness about what represents its clearest curricular niche. It is a well done popular and not academic treatment, though this is also a distinct strength in what Permar has rendered. A strong sense is conveyed of lived experience for the several generations residing in these villages. Off the Road is certainly also a strong portrait of the humanity at the heart of fandom. It takes racing fans seriously, without mockery or falling into a lampoon. This documentary will likely be of interest to those in sports journalism, exploration of fans and fandom, auto racing, leisure studies, rural anthropology, and Mexican or Latin American studies.

Atlanta Film Festival 2021, Best Cinematography; Visions Du Reel 2020, Signis Interreligious Award; DOCS Jalisco 2021, Audience Award; DOC NYC United States 2020, official selection; Los Cabos International Film Festival 2020, Competition; MIRA, The Latin American Independent Film Festival, Germany, 2020, Opening Film; Zanata Mexican Documentary Film Festival, Mexico, 2020,Competition; San Diego Latino Film Festival, United States, 2021, Official Selection; Dock of The Bay Music Documentary Film Festival, Spain, 2021, International Competition

Published and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. Anyone can use these reviews, so long as they comply with the terms of the license.