Neely Swanson

“And We Go Green” – and really fast [MOVIE REVIEW]

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“And We Go Green,” directed by Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Venville.

by Neely Swanson

“And We Go Green” is the fascinating story of a new race for speed. Directors Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville have laid out the story of Formula E, the all-electric race that follows the Formula 1 template but with newer, even more cutting-edge technology. What follows is a speedy (yes, I meant to say that) recounting of the execution and progression of a competition that was conceived in 2012, first run in 2014, and expanded, improved, and popularized in the years that followed.

Stevens and Venville follow the drivers and races involved in the 4th season, 2017-2018, while telling the history and profiling the significant drivers who have pushed this nascent sport forward at the speed of sound.

Like Formula 1, the calendar of Formula E consists of grand prix events in multiple international cities. There are significant differences besides the fossil fuel vs. electric technology. Unlike Formula 1, all Formula E races take place on city streets, often in the center of the city, rather than purpose-built tracks. In 2018, Formula 1 had a calendar of 20 races; Formula E, 12.

Alejandro Agag and Leonardo DiCaprio in “And We Go Green,” directed by Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Venville.

Formula E is an idea that sprang from the mind of FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Autombile) President Jean Todt. Certainly he was driven, at least in part, by environmental concerns, but there can be no doubt that he saw the future, and the future was electric both from the standpoint of energy and technology. Presenting his idea to Antonio Tajani, an Italian politician interested in the further electrification of the automobile industry, and Alejandro Agag, a businessman and former Spanish politician, they quickly came to the conclusion that his was a sport with tremendous possibilities. Agag took on the role of chief negotiator and soon had sponsorships and contracts lined up for this new sport. Numerous international car manufacturers were also on board quickly, and eager to show and develop their expertise. There is no doubt that Agag believes in the greening of the sport, but it is hilarious to watch him discuss his efforts on behalf of Formula E as he puffs away on a giant Havana cigar.

The races themselves are quite short, 45 minutes, originally set up for a mandatory pit stop to change cars because of short battery life. Over the course of the four seasons, the technology from the tires, to the chassis, to batteries have improved exponentially. Stevens and Venville take us inside the McLaren Electronics factory in England where the rapid improvement in racing electronics are discussed.

Jean-Eric Vergne and Andre Lotterer in “And We Go Green,” directed by Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Venville.

But this wouldn’t be the fascinating story that it is if not for the racers and their disparate backgrounds and personalities. You will meet Jean-Eric Vergne (JEV) who grew up around the Karting track outside Paris that  his racing-obsessed father built in hopes of finding and grooming a future Formula 1 driver. That future Formula 1 driver turned out to be his son.

His rival, Sam Bird of Britain, driving for Envision Virgin, had been a team mate in JEV’s first foray into Formula E, but bad blood and timing ended their relationship with JEV leaving for another team.

Lucas di Grassi and Nelson Piquet Jr. are both from Brazil and that is where any similarity ends. Di Grassi, handsome, arrogant, and self-assured clings to his outsider, up from nothing history, distancing himself from Piquet whom he considers an entitled also-ran. Piquet Jr., charming and self-effacing, has both the advantage and disadvantage of being the son of Formula 1 champion Nelson Piquet.

And finally, there is Andre Lotterer, teammate of JEV with a checkered past. His goal had been a place as a Formula 1 driver and came tantalizingly close; he competed successfully at Le Mans but never quite made that last jump. Formula E has proven more difficult than he initially envisioned.

The cinematography was a joint effort by Lukasz Bielan, Adam Kimmel, Ben Seresin, Tobias Schliessler, and Daniel Carter, coordinated by director of Photography Damien Drake. Gabriel Rhodes’ editing also deserves mention.

You probably have never heard of this circuit and may be unimpressed by the short duration of the race and the limited speed of an electric car (280 kph) versus a Formula 1 vehicle (330 kph) but the speeds and challenges are no less. By the end of this splendid documentary you will be a fan and see the future of racing and wondering why the only American company involved with this race is Penske when most of the major international corporations have entered cars.

Premiering Thursday, June 4 on Hulu. Don’t miss it.

 

 

 

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