One Day in April sets off as it means to go on, a steady pedal towards a chunk of local glory in Indiana, often dashing on ahead, leaving us back here in the crowd watching, somehow exhilarated and euphoric. When documentaries cross over into the engaging channel of your blood stream, as well as this does, you could be mistaken for watching a gritty fictionalization of a heroic event. Not to say that the Little 500 cycling event from Indian University does not spawn heroes. It does, a healthy blend of them, hard-working and physically tested students shine bright in this account. The opening sequence throws you right into the mix, though the cycling relay is devoid of sound to begin with, the audio kicks in via a slow-motion collision. From there, a very brief history of the sport’s success and development – the sound of the crowd back in 1951; the buzz of commentary in the background; you can almost hear the ambitious grunts of cyclists.
In case you were not too aware (I wasn’t), the Little 500 is a bicycle race held in April each year on the campus of Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. The teams followed here heading up to the 2013 event are team Delta Gamma, Teter, Delta Tau Delta, and Cutters. These students have an ulterior glory, on the track, all too well aware that they have one chance, and that they can’t fix the mistakes they make during a race – they can haunt them years to come afterwards. We are shown the athletes with faces of determination, a thirst for victory, and we join thousands of spectators in watching them in action. The college competitors discuss the pride of participation, but ultimately crossing the finish line as the winner. They battle through intense training, qualification measures, a very regimented process – there are falls, injuries, there are time targets not met, there are disappointments on the way, as the big day in April fast approaches.
Directed by Thomas Miller, and written by Peter Stevenson, One Day in April authentically depicts the grueling journey these students go through. The motivation is clear to see, striving to be stronger, faster, better. The documentary is crafted with a lot of natural passion, and portrays the graft and euphoria that derives from this annual event. Its progress, I guess like the sprinting itself, whizzes on by with plenty of energy and gusto – “a year’s worth of training can be taken from you in an instant”. There’s fine seasonal photography too, whether it be drifting snowflakes amidst a misty white climate, or the sun-shone avenue with tress of oranges and browns. The action, and by that I mean snippets of the training, the talking, the riding, shot in all its realistic, rocky glory, pulling the breaks on the motion from time to time with success.
When the big race arrives, the brilliant coverage here is dynamic, the twists and turns and tension almost made my own leg muscles pull a little. Filmed with such authentic poise, right across the bouncing spectators, the sideline coaches and officials, and of course the terrific athletes pedaling their hearts out, the final race turns out to be nerve-jangling climax. The debate over one racer entering the gutter (the white line that marks the off-track) to take over an opponent and win puts a dampener on celebrations somewhat, but does not shed bad water on the film itself, only enhances the drama. The penultimate sequence shows some of those involved letting their hand down in a bar, taking a leisurely bike ride, playing ball with their kids. Whatever has gone before, they have earned that.