Kurt Walker’s Hit 2 Pass comes saddled with the vague label of experimental documentary, which indicates not only that the film eludes conventional classification but also that it’s a challenging watch. In the end, that’s not really the case. Walker’s film reveals itself to be a multi-faceted concoction of familiar elements: it’s a travelogue, reflection on colonialism, interrogation of nostalgic storytelling and the end product of a group of young filmmakers experimenting with form and image.
On its surface Hit 2 Pass is an endearing account of some friends preparing for and venturing out to Prince George in Canada for the annual Hit to Pass, a hybrid demolition derby and car race.1 The slight deviation from the race’s name for this film’s title is more than just a neat reflection on the ingrained brevity of digital communication, it’s also an attempt to frame their approach to the race as a deconstructed video game. In the opening credits we cut from shots of the filmmakers driving to Prince George to screen grabs from the Sega Genesis game Road Rash; later the camera circles around their race car like a Gran Turismo car selection screen.
The sense of fun and freeing filmmaking is on show from frame one, as producer Neil Badahur re-enacts the opening to Jerry Lewis’ The Bellboy, welcoming us with shouty fanfare to the 4:3 aspect ratio. His on-screen persona becomes even more amusing when it causes a break in the opening credits: the music and the filmmakers’ car stop as a hitch-hiking Badahur, who stands on a hillside holding a sign that says “Prince George”, runs down to the car after one of the passengers yells out “we’re going up there to make a movie”. The joke is inherently silly, but it sets up an in-camera self-awareness; Walker never feels inclined to mask over the act of filmmaking, as we see crew members with sound gear in a handful of shots and watch a camera set-up from the pixellated POV of a drone.
Much of the intellectual potency of Hit 2 Pass only emerges upon reflection. The opening credits go beyond mere visual comparison between reality and video games by introducing shots of the person playing (and being frustrated by) Road Rash, producer and de facto protagonist Tyson Storozinski, who then goes onto construct his own physical vehicle which he will race around an actual track. 2 The sudden shift in the film’s final third forces us to view the traditions of the Hit to Pass race in a new light; we move from fireworks and smoke at the race track to an interview with a young Aboriginal man, Nathan Giede, who not only talks about his own life but also the nature of oral storytelling in Aboriginal culture. Both the annual celebration of the race and its connection to the surrounding landscape now feel as if they have been superimposed over the traditions and legacy of the country’s First Peoples.
This re-framing turns a personal narrative about a father and son building a race car into a subtle ethnographic study, something particularly notable in the Hit to Pass section, as Walker shifts his focus to the spectators rather than Storozinski’s race. This sequence also feels like the culmination of visual experiments in the film’s first half, as the mixed media of film, digital (camera and phone) and drone footage which marked the mechanical work are re-introduced as a means of capturing the experience of the race day: beautiful shots of welding sparks as the camera goes in and out of focus are remade as Walker captures fireworks at the racetrack.3 Late in the film, the visual experimentation quiets down, with a short museum-set section shot in a 9:16 aspect ratio giving way to a James Benning-esque series of landscape shots which present the Prince George landscape sans people.
There is an aural re-purposing at work as well through the film’s mostly diegetic soundtrack: Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” floats out of an unseen radio in the garage, the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” plays over the speaker system at the PGARA Speedway.4 The non-diegetic tracks prompt a questioning of our relationship to video games, with the score from Road Rash playing in the opening credits and a NES inspired Julian Wass track closing the film. The latter is over a montage of video game clips, and the sudden cacophony of multi-console visual content is a gauntlet of nostalgia for both filmmaker and viewer. There’s a self-interrogation here through contrast: these snippets present an ever-expanding and exciting fictional landscape to explore and colonise, as opposed to the emptiness and relative banality of the physically colonised land seen through the shots of suburban streets.
The sudden shift embedded in the film’s structure might make it a relatively jarring watch for some, but this shift is one of the reasons why Hit 2 Pass is such a refreshing (and refreshingly restrained) examination of collective cultural experience, seemingly turning on both its initial premise and the potential complacency of its audience. It prompts us to question our own lingering collective ignorance of national past and identity without leaning on didacticism, able to present an entertaining documentary about a rural car race as well as a sobering personal account of connection to native land.
Hit 2 Pass is streaming online alongside Gina Telaroli’s Here’s to the Future! on this website until the 22nd of November.
As of the 17th of March, 2016 Hit 2 Pass can now be streamed on Vimeo here.