There is a moment during I Am Bolt, the documentary of Usain Bolt as he prepared for the 2016 Olympics, that served as a bit of serendipity to its filmmakers Ben and Gabe Turner (The Class of ‘92). Bolt suffered an injury during heats for the 100 meters and there was uncertainty about him racing the next day, much less the Olympics. The tension was palpable and then a diffusing moment of laughter came, Bolt raced the next day and qualified and the rest was history.
Bolt's dominance in the 100 meter dash, the 200 meter and 4 x 100 meter races both individually and for the Jamaican national team has been amazing to watch for those unfamiliar to the sport. He dominated junior races before attempting to get to the 2004 Olympics but was derailed to injury, and debuted in 2008 with a vengeance, setting a new World Record in the 100 meters (breaking his own mark set two months prior) despite both slowing up and having a untied shoe. Later in the Games he won and set new World Records in the 200 meters and 4 x 100 race. He went on to win Gold in each of those competitions in the next two Olympics, including the 2016 games, which this film covers.
The film covers more than that though. Using interviews from Bolt, his family, coaches and countrymen/racers, we get a bit of a dive into Bolt's personality, not necessarily the reasons why he does some of the things he does, but the motivation is there. Bolt is one who tends to enjoy life and those around him, even DJing on the odd occasion, but it's not to say he's a partier. He works out in the Jamaican heat and cuts himself on his cleats, a sign that, according to his coach, he's getting faster and more ready for the season. His coach is an older man with a white beard and a paunch, something that you wouldn't think the fastest man alive, ever, would be in tuned with, but as the film shows us, Bolt gets along with him, and his manager, and his friends very well. They serve as great sounding boards for him, to the point where they challenge him to throw a javelin 60 yards for a bet. The debate on the terms plays out over the last few minutes of the film, culminating in Bolt's camp in the Rio stadium with the lights darkened, as he gives it a shot. The bet may be for 50 or 60 dollars (getting up to a million at one point), but Bolt wants to try it, because he wants to try a lot of things, and if he doesn't complete one, so be it. It's carefree and sort of refreshing from a star of his magnitude.
The Webers take great care in showing us Bolt's upbringing and includes interviews with his family and friends, and includes an occasional conflict or two, such as bragging from American Justin Gatlin after Bolt's injury was revealed. In another moment, we see Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir in 2012 as Bolt instructed Weir to run his own race and not to worry about Bolt, as he would win it. Bolt did, with Blake finishing second and Weir third for a sweep of medials in the 200 meters. Moments like that help show that Bolt's extroverted nature is contagious and often times successful.
The nature of Bolt's interviews at times when he speaks to the camera give the initial sense that things are a little controlled from Team Bolt, but it does give him the opportunity to speak his mind on some of these occasions while his friends and family fill the gaps out. It's not a revelatory film by any means, but one that provides a further appreciation to Bolt's life, one that he believes will be going elsewhere after track and field, sooner rather than later. And frankly, wanting to do things past whatever society chooses to definite you as (and see it in Bolt's actions) is nice to see.
I Am Bolt is given a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with the results looking pretty nifty. The film handles the contemporary interviews fine but also includes a surprising variety of other sources, including lots of handheld camera footage from Bolt's friends, old video broadcasts from regional qualifiers, and it all looks natural with artifacts present though inherent in a couple of the sources. The feature looks good in general and about what I was expecting.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, which doesn't get a lot of real work until the last third or so of the film when Bolt's races are shown and his fellow Jamaicans go crazy at the results and a variety of songs are played in the background. Dynamic range is fine but not persistent and the ample interviews sound clean and consistent as can be without any sort of chirping or dropoffs. Looks fine, sounds fine.
The only thing here is a making-of on the film (23:26), where the filmmakers discuss their reasons for making the film and their impressions of Bolt and his ensemble, and the moment the shoot became more casual for them. They talk about some of the challenges and the overall tribulations, and show a little more on the javelin bet in the film. It's a nice complement to the production.
By no means is I Am Bolt a documentary designed to reinvent the wheel, just to get a deeper sense of respect for it and see how it works. There are some nice moments of candor at times and flat out jocularity at others, and for one of the greatest athletes of the 21st century, it's a nice portrait of the man. Technically it's fine and the making of is a good surprise, though nothing to convince one to buy the disc, but if it's on anywhere, do check it out.