5 July 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
Interview with the Directors of ‘Road’
12 Jun 2014 : Deirdre Molumby
Joey Dunlop
‘Road’ is a feature-length documentary narrated by Liam Neeson about two generations of brothers who compete in the exhilarating and dangerous sport of motorcycle racing. William and Michael Dunlop followed in the footsteps of their father Robert and uncle, Joey Dunlop, to compete in road racing, for which Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man are two of the few places left in the world where the sport survives. The documentary reveals how a combination of skill and good or bad luck can lead to success or tragedy.

‘Road’ went into production in April 2012 and was shot on location in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man and England. It was edited over eight months at Yellow Moon in Northern Ireland and completed post-production there in January 2014.

The film was co-directed, written and produced by Michael Hewitt and Diarmuid Lavery through their Belfast-based independent production company DoubleBand Films. The pair co-founded the company and previously worked on several TV productions for BBC, including their first documentary, ‘Between the Hedges’, which focused on Robert Dunlop. According to Hewitt, “we share common values and tastes and when we set out on a project it’s almost unspoken, we just know what we want to do.”

Hewitt and Lavery were interested in road racing from when they were teenagers, and were even brought to see races in their youth. After making ‘Between the Hedges’, they continued to observe the twists and turns of the Dunlop family’s lives. “It’s not just a sports story but a human drama that we felt compelled to go and make as a documentary,” says Lavery.

Of course, one of the major attractions for audiences will be the attachment of Liam Neeson, who has established himself as a strong presence not only in drama but also in action films, to the project. According to Hewitt, Neeson embodied “a strong local connection”, having grown up just miles down the road from Ballymoney, where the Dunlops live, and Neeson delivered both the epic story of the film as well as the sensitivity required for its sadder sequences.

With POV shots from cameras mounted on the motorcycles, the cinematography is breath-taking as one is given a sense of the speed and excitement involved in racing, for which speeds of up to 200 miles per hour are possible. For Lavery and Hewitt, however, the challenge was not so much technical but emotional as they were dealing with what was essentially a personal family tragedy, one which was not too far in the past.

Hewitt remarks on the footage the Dunlops shared with the directors for ‘Between the Hedges’ as an important source for their feature-length documentary, noting that “it was very personal material, for them it was home movies”, citing footage of Michael Dunlop with his son on his knee at home as an example. Lavery equally remarks “we spent a long time building our relationship with the family to make sure they were happy with what we set out to do.”

At one point in the film, in his narration, Liam Neeson refers to “the pain of loss and ecstasy of victory” which the sport entails. As Hewitt explains, “For the riders themselves I think that is the case because none of them are blind to the risks that they take, but they get such an extraordinary return of a reward on what they do. It may not actually be winning – there are guys out there that get such immense satisfaction out of what they do even if they’re not coming to the podium at the end of the race. They’re just there to compete.

“I think one of the things we come away from the film with is respect for people who are not only incredibly talented at what they do but they commit themselves to it because it allows them to live a life that they want.”

Hewitt and Lavery will next be working on more direct-for-broadcast productions for BBC, and are in the process of acquiring rights to an American book which looks into the very different world of jazz. They also hope to make more documentary features. “Road is a case apart from nearly all the other work that we’ve done,” says Diarmuid Lavery. “It’s long-form documentary storytelling, so this type of project requires teamwork to sustain it because of the scale of it. We’ve never worked so hard or so long at something, and the challenge continues, but it has given us a taste for the wider market, the bigger audiences that we’ll be working towards.”

Other key members of the production team of ‘Road’ included executive producer for Generator Entertainment Mark Huffam, director of photography Mark Garrett and editor Andrew Tohill. Sound was by David Kilpatrick and music was by Mark Gordon and Richard Hill.

’Road’ was produced by DoubleBand Films in association with Generator Entertainment and received funding from Northern Ireland Screen. It is being distributed by Eclipse Pictures. The film is out in cinemas in Ireland tomorrow, 13 June.

See the trailer below:

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