Director: Jeremy Sims
Screenwriters: Jeremy Sims and Matthew Metcalfe
Runtime: 93 mins.
Australian release date: 6 September 2018
Previewed at: Palace Central, Sydney, on 26 July 2018.
Jeremy Sims’ feature documentary Wayne, follows the incredible career of the 1987 500cc Motorcycle World Championship winner, Wayne Gardner, who created shockwaves in the motorbike racing realm when he became the first Australian to win the global Grand Prix. Known as ‘the Wollongong Whiz’, he was highly competitive from the start and as ‘tenacious as a dog’ in his unrelenting ambition; for Gardner, coming second was to lose - his only aim was “…to win or fall off”.
His first dirt bike was purchased for a mere $5 and it was the first stepping stone on his path to success. He began racing professionally on 250cc bikes when he was 18 and almost immediately started winning races. In 1981 he was spotted by Japanese racing team owner Mamoru Moriwaki, who placed him on an international career track when he put Gardner on a modified Kawasaki in the Suzuka 8 Hours race and they beat all the major factory racing teams. It was also around this time that he met Graham Crosby, a New Zealander who rode for Suzuki, who sponsored Gardner so that he could race in the European circuit. He was invited to stay with Crosby in England and the Aussie arrived in the middle of a British winter clad in ‘Stubbies’ and thongs! Gardner rode, initially, for the Honda Britain racing team and then, after two years, for the Rothmans Honda-HRC team, eventually winning his first ‘first’ in the 1986 Spanish Grand Prix. This was quickly followed by wins in the Dutch and British Grand Prix and he finished second in the competition overall. His World Championship win the next year piqued racing interest in Australia and, in 1989, Gardner brought the first 500cc motorcycle Grand Prix to Phillip Island. This was at a time when Australia itself was maturing and Gardner’s life matches the country’s own to some degree. As Sims puts it, “I have a big interest in how Australia grew up. Watching what Australia was and how it changed between 1979 and 1990 was fascinating and Wayne was right in the middle of that. I think the nation grew significantly and showing this in a parallel with Wayne’s journey was something I was really interested in doing”.
Actor/director Jeremy Sims has a solid record behind the camera and his dramatic features Last Train To Freo, Beneath Hill 60 and Last Cab To Darwin and are all intelligent films with strong protagonists. He succeeds again with this feature-length documentary, his first, which is exhilarating while telling a very human story. Gardner’s teenage sweetheart and long-term partner, Donna-Lee Kahlbetzer, was integral to his life and success and she is front-and-centre in Wayne, as she should be. She maintains she was convinced to go on a blind-date with him when she was 16 because she was told that he looked like ‘a young John Paul Young’! Although they are no longer romantically linked, Kahlbetzer speaks fondly of her days following Gardner around the world circuit and there is terrific archival footage of the pair during their years together. There are also plenty of interviews with fellow travellers from the racing world and, most importantly, contemporary ones with the man himself.
Stylistically, there are some interesting elements to Wayne. Sims and his collaborators have chosen to let the subjects speak for themselves, so there is no narration or ‘voice of God’ hinting to us how we should approach Gardner, and he can be quite a divisive character. Seasoned NZ editor Tim Woodhouse is credited by Sims as being crucial to the unfolding of his story. In addition, the doc is punctuated by manga-type animation segments illustrating portions of Gardner’s early life in ‘the Gong’ and it’s a device that works well. Thus, Wayne is a fascinating film on a number of levels so even if you have no knowledge or interest in motor-cycle racing, there are other facets that will keep you engaged with Sims’ creation, so don’t be afraid to go along for the ride.