Movie review: Slick, fast-moving documentary suggests that electric racing cars can save the environment
There’s no doubt that feature-length documentaries are more popular than ever. There’s also no doubt that more people watch documentaries at home than in movie theaters. And with people now going without cinemas, and relying on their TVs to satisfy their viewing habits, the number of documentary watchers is going to rise even more. And when documentarians go out of their way to make their films equally informative and entertaining, the enticement to check them out will get even stronger.
Such is the case with “And We Go Green,” a documentary that initially appears to be about the relatively new sport of Formula E racing.
No, I never heard of it before, either. I only knew of Formula One racing. You know, the kind that features sleek, low-to-the-ground cars that can get up to speeds of 200 mph, and go zooming around tracks with big engines roaring at high-decibel volumes.
Formula E racing, which debuted about five years ago, also boasts sleek, low-to-the-ground cars that zoom around tracks, though they don’t get above 137 mph and - here it comes - they’re electric cars, so there’s no engine noise. Pretty much the only sounds emanating from them are the screeches from tires as they make turns.
So, it’s that type of racing, and looks at the men behind the wheels, that are the subjects of the film. Its title comes from the loudspeaker announcement at the start of every E race: “And we go green,” which refers to the green light that signals the drivers to hit the accelerator.
But the title also refers to what else the film is about: the fact that Formula E racing could be the wave of the future in competitive driving. Maybe one day, electric cars will replace the gas-guzzling, noise-polluting cars of Formula One. The “E” in Formula E is not only about electricity, it’s about helping to save the environment. The title is not only about seeing the green light, it’s about “going green.”
The film was the idea of actor-activist Leonardo DiCaprio. He approached actor-turned-director Fisher Stevens, who won an Oscar for producing the amazing documentary “The Cove,” brought him to a Formula E race in New York, and convinced him to look deeper into the subject.
Then Stevens, who knew nothing of the sport before DiCaprio’s invitation, and his co-director Malcolm Venville, a self-proclaimed car racing enthusiast, looked very deep. The result is a sports movie that introduces a little-known subject, gets close with Alejandro Agag - the Spanish businessman who created it - and with a number of the drivers on the international Formula E circuit. The film mainly focuses on three of them: the British driver Sam Bird, the Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jr., and the Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne (who goes by the nickname JEV). All three have movie star looks and big attitudes, and all of them talk about their own strengths and others’ weaknesses.
To win a Formula E race, drivers take part in 12 separate races at tracks all over the world. The driver with the most points at the end of race 12 is the winner. In telling this part of it, the film is exciting and dramatic. Cameras are in the stands, are shooting through rear windows on the tracks, and are mounted in the racing cars.
But then there’s the rest of what’s being told here. This is an environmental film about the science of developing technologies that will make these cars easier to drive and more efficient. In the sport’s early days, drivers had to use two batteries in each race, because the first one would run out of juice, sometimes stranding them on the track. It goes even further, eventually getting into how the technology being developed for racing will someday be used in regular consumer cars.
So, in watching these races in Marrakesh, Mexico City, Rome, Paris, New York, and other locales, viewers - who may just be expecting a sports film - are going to be caught unaware that they’re also being educated. They’ll see the racers chumming around, then later tossing off bitter words about each other, and archival footage of some of them as kids on the go kart circuit.
But the filmmakers have craftily put in subtle messages about how this new sport just could help out in the battle against climate change, and how technological innovation in cars could lead to saving the planet.
“And We Go Green” premieres on Hulu on June 4.
Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“And We Go Green”
Written by Mark Monroe; directed by Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville
With lots of race car drivers you’ve never heard of, and Leonardo DiCaprio