Josh Caldwell and Hunter Weeks found day-to-day life as cubical zombies just wasn't what they imagined for themselves. Comfortably frustrated with their inert situation, Josh and Hunter knew it was time for a radical change; to pursue a dream few would dare to even consider. Arming themselves with cameras, the prospect of horrific debt, and a couple of Segways, the duo decided to cross America standing, one lonely mile at a time.
"10 MPH" is a documentary detailing this ambitious journey; one that from the outside must've looked like sheer lunacy. To cross the country in a car is tedious enough, but to attack the challenge onboard a pop culture footnote that the average dog could outpace? Now there's dedication to a plan.
The proposal of such an idea is what makes "10 MPH" so engaging. Director Weeks is trying to mount a DIY fantasy film; a love letter to life change and the pursuit of happiness. His argument is very convincing, as he pieces together a documentary that expresses the endless beauty of America while also stopping from city to city to explore the idea of personal inventory and how others in the populace have found their bliss bypassing the status quo.
While encumbered by minimal production values and perhaps too much footage to sort through, "10 MPH" contains a plucky spirit I wish more independent productions were willing to summon. The film takes the insurmountable odds of the journey and breaks them down into little pieces to best extract larger ideas on life and joy, while also embracing the absurdity of the situation and the limitations of the plan. Weeks portions his film out carefully, as though the viewer is along for the ride. In being so careful, his theme is represented more profoundly, and the fatigue of the tortoise-like trek is allowed to creep into the bones of the audience.
While initially a story of perseverance, "10 MPH" works just as well as a striking PBS postcard of the country, with the team rolling along America's finest locales of beauty and its worst pits of economic depression. Starting their journey in Seattle, the film hits a wonderful stride as the action rolls over the Midwest. Here the cameras can capture the endless majesty of nature and the spirits of the crew are in top form. As much as the lure for self-indulgence is there (especially in the YouTube era), Weeks makes it his practice to impart the viewer with a sense of location and highlight the assorted dangers crossing the terrain in a Segway invites. I'm honestly shocked nobody was killed during the experiment.
Along the way, the boys meet a Wyoming llama farmer, investigate the river culture of Idaho, try out (and wreck) farm equipment in Kansas, hope an afternoon through East St. Louis doesn't cost them their lives, encounter both bullying and helpful police officers in Illinois, and eat cheesesteaks till their arteries clog in Philadelphia. There's a new face in every town, greeting the team and adding to the increasing amount of media attention the whole endeavor was attracting. Weeks provides just snapshots of the stops along the way, but it adds up to a warm whole of hospitality, nicely edited against the growing unrest of the production (which included a college student and Hunter's sister Gannon - who also provides some superb paintings of office hell for the prologue), where a dodgy producer jumped shipped midway and the boredom of the trip sapped the bliss right out of the whole thing.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio), "10 MPH" isn't quite a demo quality presentation. Filmed on a meager budget with professional, but limited equipment, the visual presentation captures the homegrown atmosphere that I found so endearing about the final product. The transfer doesn't always handle colors and night sequences well, but it makes up for the technological deficiency with a comfy DVD watching experience that accurately reflects the raw materials Weeks had to work with.
Dolby Digital 2.0 is the official DVD mix, and it skillfully handles the limited sonic offerings made by the film. The track merges dialog with the coffee-house rock score very well. It's a soft audio presentation, but an effective one.
For a personal release like "10 MPH," there is a sizable collection of supplements to choose from, enriching the experience of this DVD far beyond the normal lackluster effort handed to indie productions.
First up is a feature-length audio commentary with Weeks and Caldwell. Boldly labeled "side-splitting" on the packaging, I'll have to assume that was an ironic proclamation, since this track is as dry as John Houseman on Quaaludes.
The filmmakers mean well and the commentary certainly divulges some interesting tidbits on the making of the documentary. The reoccurring theme is editorial trickery, with Weeks taking bits and pieces of scenes to build a continuity the actual adventure didn't quite manage to find. Those moments of reveal are great fun to listen to. The rest of the track tends to fall into "oh, I love this" territory, but if "10 MPH" ends up entertaining you, the commentary is the next logical step to better understand this peculiar movie.
20 minutes of deleted scenes are offered. Outside of a conclusion of sorts to the farming equipment accident, the rest of the scenes are irrelevant snippets of footage, cut for time and focus.
A blooper reel consisting of botched "takes," Segway mishaps, and general goofing around provides a couple laughs. Perhaps this extra is meant for people more closely associated with the production.
The eight-minute "NECN Interview" gives the viewer a peek at the media interest the production embraced during their time on the road.
"Facts about the Expedition" is a brief and interesting list of production expenditures and achievements.
"J.Fred Reel" is a two-minute selection of clips centered on the executive producer of the film. Weeks and Caldwell seem to think the guy is an endless reservoir of laughs. I'll have to take their word for it.
100 days and over 400 battery changes later, Weeks, Caldwell and the rest of the team finished their arduous journey tired, stressed out, but clinging tightly to the smiles left on their faces. Not only did they survive the elements, financial strain, and media interest, they found at the heart of it all was this mound of documentary footage that would make a special film; a personal statement of accomplishment. "10 MPH" is that movie, and it's every bit as triumphant touring America as it is extolling the virtues of relishing time and embracing freedom. It's a lovely little film for anyone who has ever been stuck daydreaming of a life lived on their own terms.
For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com