It turns out that not all biographical short docs these days are exactly alike.
A few weeks back, we shared a hilarious parody of a documentary style that has become all too common in today's internet culture. The style consists of plentiful voiceover, often soft and contemplative, slow motion shots of a subject as they take on mundane tasks, copious amounts of silhouetting, backlighting, and shallow depth of field, all of which is topped off with an emotive, atmospheric soundtrack. Of course, these filmmaking techniques are fine in and of themselves, as they can all be effective. However, when they're all used together, and when seemingly everybody is doing it to some extent, our content all starts to look and sound the same.One of the questions that arose after that piece was published was, "Is anybody out there crafting biographical work that defies convention and raises a middle finger towards the clichéd style of today's short docs?" After watching the following piece from Roberto Serrini, a talented filmmaker based in NYC, the answer to the question will be a resounding, "Hell yes!" The documentary is called Moto Borgotaro, and it's a profile of an enigmatic motorcycle mechanic who, somewhat paradoxically, hates motorcycles, or at least the machismo attitude that surrounds them. The film explores his passion for one bike in particular, the 1979 Moto Guzzi Le Mans, which he rebuilt from scratch. Check it out:
Not only does Moto Borgotaro defy many of the stylistic conventions that have come to define "maker docs," but it also sets a new standard for the genre of bike shop videos, which almost always feature grinder sparks shot in slow motion. The film accomplishes this by drawing heavily from cinema history to create an aesthetic reminiscent of a spaghetti westerns, grindhouse, and Tarantino films. In the context of a short doc, however, these narrative stylings feel fresh and vibrant, and they definitely help Moto Borgotaro break the mold for what a piece like this can look and feel like.
I had a chance to chat briefly with Roberto about why he chose to make the film this way, and how he went about crafting it:
Peter and his bike are anything but typical. So the film shouldn’t be either.
I have been doing a lot of work lately with this sick motorcycle shop in Brooklyn called Union Garage. The owner Chris Lesser is always looking to do work that is genuine and just outside the norm. When his partner Peter Boggia decided to build a 1979 Moto Guzzi Le Mans by hand, we knew we needed to document it, and do it in a way that was not like any other bike build movie, i.e. no grinder sparks. Anywhere. Ever. Also, this was something of a great honor because Peter’s not one to ever go on camera, and what he does is really remarkable.
Roberto also talked briefly about how he and his small crew went about shooting this film, including their choice of using mixed capture formats, including some 16mm film:
So, we basically threw all we had at it, and we shot the film over two days using a RED Epic, a BMCC, and even an old 16mm Arri we found at a prop house. I wanted to mix a bunch of different formats and shooting styles so that in the edit when I went apeshit on it (like I like to do), it really jumped off the screen. I went with lots of Italian Giallo type music, and found pieces of archival moto footage to give it an even more obtuse feel. I was basically ensuring that it wouldn’t look like your average "maker video", which just saturate the scene these days.
Moto Borgotaro is currently playing in 8 festivals, including the Hollywood and Jalopnik Film Fests in LA, the Williamsburg and Motorcycle Film Fests in NY, and the Aesthetica Film Fest in the UK. If you have any questions for Roberto about the film, leave them down in the comments!