By: Sahan Jayasuriya
We last heard from Wendy Schneider last year, when her excellent film “The Smart Studios Story” made its debut at the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival. The film that took seven years to complete was finally finished, all was left was an intensive cycle of promotion, screenings and interviews. Following all this, one would expect any director to take a break and recharge. Schneider did the exact opposite, resuming work on a project she began ten years prior.
Schneider’s latest project, Angels of Dirt looks at the culture of young women who participate in flat track and motocross racing. When she began the project in 2006, Schneider simply had an interest and fascination with the culture and community of racers and decided to start filming.
“I was following 2 schools of racing- motorcross and flat track” said Schneider. “Both were happening at the same small track on interstate 94 in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. I'd go out there and shoot and started developing relationships with some of the young racers, most specifically a (then 9-year old) girl named Charlotte Kainz from West Allis.”
After nearly three years of shooting, the project was put on hold for personal reasons. Additionally, Schneider was uncertain as to what she was trying to accomplish with the film.
“I had filmed for three years and then I stepped away from the project and started working on the Smart Studios doc, which was a very serious undertaking” continued Schneider. “It had a clear story focus. When I would think back on all the footage I had for Angels Of Dirt, I just wasn’t inspired.”
What lead her to revisit the film was, unfortunately, great sadness. In the years when the film was put on hold, Kainz’s abilities only increased, with her eventually racing professionally on the AMA circuit. The future looked incredibly bright for this young athlete until her life was tragically cut short. While racing in Santa Rosa, California last September, Kainz succumbed to injuries she sustained when she crashed in the GNC 2 heat race. She was just 20 years old.
“The turning point for me was the loss of Charlotte” said Schneider. “This is someone who meant so much to me and meant so much to so many people. It was an instantaneous change in my spirit that I felt like I wanted to get back on the bike so to speak, if only to honor her”.
While the film is no doubt marked by the tragic loss of Kainz, the film isn’t entirely about loss. Filming and interviews have commenced since picking up the project again, and from the looks of it, Schneider aims to create something that is larger and more universal than its previous incarnation.
“This film is about life force, how you cherish somebody and how they become part of you” continued Schneider. “It’s a much more than just a film celebrating women who race motorcycles. This is about life and loss and all these broader ideas that are very relatable, even to people who have nothing at all to do with racing.”
Much like The Smart Studios Story, Angels of Dirt is being produced independently by Schneider's production company, Coney Island Studios, in Madison, WI. Early development funding will be from private support and crowdfunding. Schneider's successful Kickstarter campaign allowed work to resume on Smart after four years. In the case of this new project, however, funding is going to be required much earlier.
“The first phase is getting to where I can start editing the film” said Schneider. “A lot of the community is the same, but who I’m interviewing is to be determined. Financing is so important, but what is really challenging is to harness people’s energy around the film."
While the film is still in its production stages, Schneider’s decision to revisit the project has found her doing so with a newfound sense of enthusiasm and determination.
“Harnessing any power associated with young females is important to me” said Schneider. “Anything that exercises a fearlessness and a sense of self determination, or encourages females to live their dreams on their terms, any outlet associated with that is important to me at this point, more so than it was even six months ago.”
With the help of crowdfunding participants, Angels of Dirt will come to life in the same way that The Smart Studios Story did, with a similar sentiment of honoring the legacy of a person (or place) that was so incredibly important so many people.
“Charlotte was so admired and respected; just adored. To see somebody as quiet and kind as she was blossom into this fearless and fierce pro racer was really extraordinary to see. It still is. Its painting a picture of a young girl becoming a racer and to find the essence of what racing means to people-why young girls in particular are choosing this sport.”
Angels of Dirt is currently in production. To support the project, please visit www.angelsofdirt.com With just six days left to donate to the film's crowd funding campaign, every donation counts. Visit the film's Indiegogo page here.