By Steve Medcroft
Jason Berry, Director of the mountain-bike movie Off Road to Athens (a feature documentary which follows eight American athletes competing world wide for the chance to be part of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team) says he swore to himself that he would not do another documentary. "ORTA (Off Road To Athens) had been a two-year marathon filled with uncertainty at every turn," he wrote on his online journal. "Would we have a decent story? Would I be able to pay my bills and still have money to fuel the film?"
After OTRA, which Berry made with producer Ken Bell of Gripped Films, was released to almost universally positive reviews and an unexpected win at the prestigious Vail Film Festival for Best Documentary, Berry says he thought maybe he would consider making another film someday.
It was the presence of seven-time 24 Hours of Adrenalin Solo World Champion Chris Eatough (Trek/VW) at a screening of OTRA in Baltimore that brought the next story to life. "I've known Chris for a few years and I've always been impressed by his abilities," Berry says. "Back in January, on a training ride with Chris, I had begun to think about how unbelievable it is that he's attempting to do something only Armstrong has done - a seventh consecutive title.
"At the screening, Chris mentioned that he was going to China after Sea Otter. I emailed Todd McKean (TREK's man in China) and suggested he have me come along to film the race. When he said yes, I figured it was all coming together and I'd just go ahead with the movie idea."
Although the arc of the film will be Eatough's 2006 endurance season, Berry says he hopes to introduce the general public to 24 hour racing with the movie. "We're committed to making films that appeal to people outside the sport," he says. "With ORTA our constant goal was to make a movie that a grandmother in middle America could watch and be entertained by. There's so much real drama and action in the sport and while it will be tough to keep 24 hour racing from looking like a freak-sport, it deserves the same kind of attention that events like the Tour and the Hawaii Ironman get."
Berry says shooting a feature documentary with one primary subject should be a lot easier than it was to round up footage on ORTA's cast of eight racers. "Imagine having 300 hours of footage including interviews from 15 different people in 8 countries and trying to piece it all together," he says. "ORTA was a nightmare in every aspect. This will be a dream in comparison."
Although some of the logistics of making the new film will be easier to manage than ORTA, Berry says it will still take an incredible effort to get the best and most usable footage to tell the story of Eatough and the 24-hour scene.' "There is pressure because we want to tell the whole story of 24-hour racing," he says. "We'll interview (John) Stamstead, Tinker (Juarez) and other endurance rock stars - as well as touch base with the stars from ORTA to get their take on 24 hour racing."
The other major difference between this and Berry's last project is his chosen video format. "I'm shooting on HD in wide-format this time. The technology is amazing and I can't wait until HD DVD's come out later this year. This will be the very first HD mountain biking film made."
During the China trip, Berry shadowed Eatough and filled up reels of digital video tape. "China was a dream come true," he says. "And then Chris went and won the race he was there for - it was perfect." Eatough was in China to support a Trek presence at the Shanghai Bike Festival and to race a marathon through the Huangshan region of China; the historically-preserved villages and terrain that served as a backdrop for the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Berry says he will continue gathering footage throughout the year and hopes to finish the film for a 2007 Sea Otter premier.