In God’s country, time can slow down.” – narrator, Eric Bana

Isaac Elliott

For the riders, the spectators and the town of Alice Springs, the Finke Desert Race is more than a race. Finke: There and Back delves below the surface to uncover what makes them tick, what drives them to put their lives on the line when they strap their helmets on. Paraplegic Isaac Elliott is attempting to complete the race that he started a decade earlier. Scruff Hamill, who lives in a shed full of bikes in Sydney, makes the trip to tick off a bucket list event. Meanwhile, the factory race teams at the head of the field fight for pride and to be named ‘King of the Desert.’

Finke: There and Back starts off as your typical documentary – some interviews that just scratch the surface on who these guys are, and archival footage of earlier editions of the Finke Desert Race. But once director/writer/director of photography Dylan River got that out of the way, and we finally travel down to the centre of Australia, that’s when the real fun begins. Majestic ancient landforms and aerial shots of the Finke river, the oldest river in the world, set against the backdrop of the vast Australian desert, are breathtaking. We take nature too much for granted. Seeing it like this, reactivates my wanderlust and makes me want to go travel again. While Eric Bana narrates what goes on before, during and after the race, we get to witness these compelling emotional character journeys combined with edge-of-your-seat high action.

Helicopters follow our bikers, while they get to know the track during a pre-ride. The indigenous locals take pictures with reigning winner Toby Price, who has to skip this year’s race due to a fracture in his leg a few months ago. All eyes are on local favourite David Walsh. “You’re either crazy or really want it.”, says his wife Kate. Two weeks before the race, Daymon Stokie has a follow up appointment with his physician, after breaking his fingers a while back. His hand still hurts and the closer we get to the race, the more his nerves take the upper hand. Alice Springs local, Luke Hayes, lost his dad the year before. He wants to step in his dad’s footsteps, as he talks about his father’s triumphant win, while we watch footage of that memorable day.

Volunteers flatten out the track, “to make sure their ass doesn’t fly through their brains”. While everyone is busy working out one last time at the gym, Scruff chugs a beer, hoping to just finish the race and get back in one piece. 15,000 tourists and locals from all different ethnic and cultural backgrounds set camp next to the hundreds of kilometres of race track. Spectators spread across the path, filled with excitement, as soon clouds of red dust will follow their favourite racers, for the race to Finke and back.

Dylan River isn’t new to the track, the Finke Desert Race is his home. This is a personal story to him, and he wanted to share the spirit of Finke with as many people as possible. And boy, does he achieve that. The intensity of the race track and the endurance these guys need to finish what they started, is jaw-dropping. What he accomplished with his team, behind-the-scenes and on location, is out of the ordinary.

Finke: There and Back is one of the most exhilarating and one-of-a-kind documentaries in recent history. I laughed, I cried, it felt like I was there. An unforgettable, roaring 90 minutes to witness the crowning of ‘The King of the Desert‘, that can’t be missed.

Review – ‘Finke: There and Back’

Reviewed at Palace Central, Sydney, Nov. 1, 2019. Australian Classification: M. Running time: 90 min.

PRODUCTION: A MadMan release in association with Zacka Films, Since 1788 Productions, Screen Territory produced with the assistance of Screen Australia, Create NSW, Film Victoria financed with the assistance of Indigenous Business Australia of a Brundle Films production. Producers: Rachel Clements, Isaac Elliott, Meredith Garlick, Trisha Morton-Thomas.

CREW: Director, writer: Dylan River. Camera (color, widescreen): Dylan River. Editors: Marcus D’Arcy, Kelly Cameron, James Bradley. Music: Sonaire.

WITH: Isaac Elliott, Scruff Hamill, David Walsh, Daymon Stokie, Luke Hayes, Toby Price. Narrated by: Eric Bana.

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