POV: What first struck you about Speedo?
Jesse Moss: Speedo is a man of such large contradictions. He is crude and outrageous, very much in the moment, sometimes a little shocking. But he is incredibly passionate about being a good person. I saw the struggle with those contradictions. That’s what drew me to Speedo.
POV: What kinds of subjects do you find fascinating?
Moss: I’ve made two documentaries, both about anti-heroes, bad boys, outsiders. And that’s what interests me. It may be a phase, but I made a film about a con artist and I made a film about a demolition derby champion. I’m interested in male identity. In self-invention. I was always struck by how Speedo, in his tiny world, just Riverhead Raceway, had made himself a super hero of sorts. I admire that ability in people. Documentarians are voyeurs and Speedo is the very opposite of me. It sounds sort of corny, but we are from such different worlds and we have this intense bond that I only have with people in my family. And I think most documentary filmmakers who have been through a similar kind of process can say that about their subjects. It’s one of the great privileges of documentary.
POV: Do you prefer making documentaries to narrative films?
Moss: One of the reasons that I love documentary is that the camera gives you extraordinary access to worlds that are so different than your own. I live in Manhattan. I grew up in a community that was much different than Speedo’s. I never went to the racetrack, and with my camera I was able to access this fascinating subculture. I think that in a place that we least expect, in the world of demolition derby, we discover that Speedo is grappling with the same challenges that we all do. He’s trying to be a good father, he’s trying to be a good husband, he’s trying to achieve his dreams, and those are universal ideas. The film has spoken to audiences beyond the male race fan. Plus, I think if you tried to write Speedo as a fictional character, you couldn’t. I like making films about real people because I think that their stories are much more interesting than fictional stories.
POV: How long did it take to make Speedo?
Moss: It took about five years, although the events in the film take place over about two years of Speedo’s life, in 1999 and 2000. I continued to shoot off and on after that and I finished the film in 2004. It was fortunate that I was able to film him over such a period of time because his life changed dramatically and very unexpectedly.
POV: When did you see the narrative arc in Speedo’s personal life?
Moss: I had been filming with Speedo for about six months before he took me home to meet his family, when we had built that trust. When we first met he was wary of me and my camera, as most film subjects are. But, the very first time I went home with him, I could see that a source of the rage he was expressing at the track on Saturday nights was rooted in his family life. It was clear when I interviewed his wife, Linda, that she didn’t like what he did and that he escaped into his cars. The wonderful irony of the film is that when Speedo finally falls in love with a woman who understands what he does, he is released from that compulsion to race. He no longer has the rage that drove him to compete in the derby. But I think Speedo always had the chops.
POV: What is your favorite scene in the film?
Moss: The most powerful scenes in the film for me are with Speedo and Anthony. You see how important it is to Speedo to be involved in the lives of his kids. After I met Anthony, I wanted to make a film about him, too — what a great film, to explore Long Island teenage culture. But, I think capturing family is in the small, intimate moments, not the grand gestures or the profound interviews. It’s a father helping his son tie a tie. It’s a father’s anguished look as his son jumps up and down on the stage with his punk band. In the editing process I began to discover those moments.
POV: What drove your stylistic choices for the film?
Moss: At the same time I was making “Speedo,” I was making another documentary that involved a lot of interviews. I wanted to get away from that style. I love films that are pure cinema verit», where the camera is a kind of quiet observer of life as it unfolds. The style of the film was also dictated by the nature of the production — I had no money, I was working by myself, so I began to film him with a small DV camera.
POV: What was the hardest thing about making Speedo?
Moss: Most of my friends and my family thought, “Oh, that’s Jesse’s strange obsession, his strange demolition derby film,” and they didn’t really understand. The film took five years of my life, and it was tough to deal with that. It’s not a subject that immediately speaks to people. But I think once you meet Speedo you realize why I made the film: because he’s an original and he’s compelling.
POV: How did making the film change you?
Moss: I’m a very reserved person. And the last film that I made before this was a very internal, thoughtful, meditative piece about self-invention. I would never have imagined that I would make a love story, but I am so happy that I did. It’s rare that a documentary captures a love story. It’s very ephemeral. And the moments that signify falling in love are the most elusive moments — they’re looks, they last for a fraction of a second. I feel privileged to have been filming Speedo when he fell in love because I think those are some of the most elusive moments in documentary. They are the moments that I’m most proud of. I’m not a sentimental person, but I fell in love with Speedo and he fell in love with Liz.
POV: What do you hope that Speedo will do for its viewers?
Moss: I hope that the film will motivate people to talk about family, about marriage, about relationships, and about rage. It’s easy to dismiss the violence of the demolition derby as cartoonish, and I think it’s a little misleading on screen. It’s a very violent sport but the forces that compel Speedo are dark ones. I hope the film is more than just an entertaining story of one man’s quest to win the demolition derby national championship and fall in love with the girl of his dreams.
What does Speedo think about Speedo?
Moss: I was very nervous about what Speedo would think of the film before I screened it for him. And he saw it for the first time with an audience at a film festival. I tried to be true and honest to the material and to the story. There are very tough scenes in the film, scenes where Speedo looks bad. But Speedo respects the decisions that I made, he really likes the film, and I think that he feels that it captures a very important period of his life in very honest terms. He enjoys seeing himself on the big screen!