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The Independent Critic

Ab Jenkins, Marv Jenkins, Jay Leno, Gordon E. White, Donald Davidson, Patrick Dempsey (Voice of "Ab")
Curt Wallin
Michael Chandler, Jennifer Jordan
90 Mins.

 "Boys of Bonneville" Review 
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When my Uncle Bob was killed while drag racing, my family's lengthy background in auto racing suddenly came to a screeching halt. While my father also dabbled in drag racing and even I toyed around with dirt cars for a brief period in my early 20's, Bob's death seemed to shoot an arrow through the heart of our family and what had once been a rich family tradition suddenly ended.

As a young boy born with spina bifida, I was not supposed to survive my childhood. Before "wishes" really even existed, it was arranged for me to have a childhood dream come true with the belief that I would not live into my adult years. The dream? I wanted to meet Mario Andretti and, one day, there he was with an autographed book standing right at my very home.

To this day, I'm a devoted fan of the Andretti family.

If you weave together my family's rich racing tradition and the fact that I am a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, it should come as no surprise that I fancy myself a true connoisseur of nearly all things auto racing. While I'm a devoted IndyCar fan, the simple truth is I absolutely love virtually all forms of auto racing.

In other words, I knew about Ab Jenkins, the subject of Curt Wallin's excellent feature documentary based upon Jenkins' life, Boys of Bonneville: Racing on a Ribbon of Salt. An official selection of the 2011 Indianapolis International Film Festival, Boys of Bonneville tells the true story of the largely unknown racer, born David Abbott Jenkins, who pretty much devoted his entire racing life to establishing, breaking and re-establishing land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, an area known for its racing friendly terrain. Jenkins possessed an almost superhuman amount of physical stamina, often racing for 24 hours or more alone during a period in racing when one or more drivers in a vehicle was quite common. At one point owning, quite literally, every existing land speed record, it was Jenkins who first used the Salt Flats for racing and who eventually lured even the fastest European drivers to Utah long before anything around the Salt Flats had been developed or was even remotely user friendly.

Having debuted at the Newport Beach Film Festival in May, Boys of Bonneville has already lined up several festival appearances including one more at the Indy Film Fest on Saturday, July 23rd at 2:30 pm at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. While the film centers squarely in the world of auto racing, Boys of Bonneville will most assuredly appeal to anyone who can appreciate an inspirational story about an unsung hero who took his under-funded effort and became a true racing legend with 12 records that stand to this day.

Boys of Bonneville intertwines archival footage, interviews, scripted narration provided by actor Patrick Dempsey and interviews from both experts (Gordon E. White) to diehard fans (Jay Leno) and quite a few others. Boys of Bonneville is a rather traditional and straightforward feature doc, but it's presented so compellingly that it's captivating from beginning to end. There's multiple tie-ins pointed out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the film becomes surprisingly moving after Jenkins passes in 1956 and years later his son leads an effort to restore his father's car, the Mormon Meteor, which has been allowed to fall into disrepair while on display in Salt Lake.

Director Curt Wallin paces the film beautifully, adding interviews at just the right moment yet also keeping the viewer completely engaged in the auto racing and, at least on some fundamental level, creating a bit of a dizzying sensation that helps you minimally understand what Jenkins might have been experiencing hour after hour after hour. Stephen Smith incorporates subtle yet complementary motion graphics, while Dempsey's narration has been scripted by Jennifer Jordan and Michael Chandler in a way that feels alive and authentic. Gerald Hartley's original score gives the film a nice zip, yet slows down quite nicely when the film is more centered on the relationship dynamics between Jenkins and his son Marv.

Both emotionally and intellectually satisfying, Boys of Bonneville: Racing on a Ribbon of Salt should be considered a must see by the abundance of Indy's racing fans and with one more showing during the 2011 Indy Film Fest, this is both an opportunity to see a terrific racing human interest story and come check out the 2011 Indy Film Fest.

For more information on Indy Film Fest, visit the festival's website. For more information on Boys of Bonneville, be sure to visit the film's website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic