I just took my daughter to the premier of Justin Smith’s documentary, Relentless, about a team of student engineers who build and race formula cars. I’ve never been a car guy. To emphasize that point, I drive a moss-covered Pontiac Vibe mini wagon, which is noted for two things: it has a standard electric outlet in the dashboard and it’s the least stolen car in the US. My daughter isn’t really a gearhead either. She arrived at the premier in multicolored tights, a pink skirt and red glitter shoes. She’s something of a girly-girl.
But a solid documentary is one that pulls in an audience and makes them passionate about a subject in which they had little interest or knowledge before the lights go down. Justin pulled that off in Relentless, carrying the audience through an emotional arc of a championship bid in a very intense competition. It’s a moving and inspirational experience.
I have to admit that I have stakes in the project since it was produced in part to promote Oregon State University and celebrate the accomplishments of some amazing students. But I know that the film was a success, because I watched those students squirm in the row in front of me as they relived the highs and lows of the year that the film depicted.
On the drive home, my eight year old daughter, who had previously pretty much decided that her career ambition is to work at PetCo, said to me, “I think I want to build and drive race cars.” I consider that clear evidence of the film’s success.