The new Formula E documentary, And We Go Green, made its world premiere on Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival. I was lucky enough to be in attendance to see its release—and it might just be the best racing documentary I’ve ever seen.
The documentary is a recap of FE’s fourth season, which ran from 2017 to 2018. It goes behind the scenes to show the organic evolution of a championship hunt for some, a season of disappointment for others, and the technology being developed along the way. While the documentary was developed with the participation of CEO Alejandro Agag, it isn’t specifically a Formula E-branded documentary; rather, it’s a joint production between RadicalMedia, Bloomfish Productions, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way Productions.
The list of names behind this documentary is stacked. Directors Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville both boast lengthy filmographies. DiCaprio and Agag serve as producers.
This particular documentary focuses on just a handful of drivers as they take place in season four of FE. Jean-Eric Vergne, Sam Bird, Lucas di Grassi, and Nelson Piquet Jr. take center stage, while André Lotterer makes frequent appearances largely because of his close friendship with then-teammate Vergne.
I was consistently impressed by what I saw. The cinematography was breathtaking. The utilization of music and soundtrack was perfect. The crafting of the plot, the interviews, the behind-the-scenes moments, and the use of race footage worked so damn well.
I spent a significant portion of this documentary just watching with a big stupid grin on my face, delighted that someone had made such an exceptional documentary about fast cars. It was that kind of giddiness I haven’t felt about a movie since I saw Rush for the first time.
The film crew got really down and dirty here. They were in the thick of everything, whether it was hanging out in Vergne’s apartment waiting for him to wake up in the morning or filming di Grassi after a shit race. I’m usually kind of meh about interviews with current drivers because they rarely say anything worthwhile. Here, though, you have Piquet Jr. lamenting his father never going to see him race and never giving a reason as to why, and Lotterer affectionately calling Vergne a dick for being so damn moody. Alejandro Agag confesses he doesn’t have high hopes for Vergne’s championship goals and spends time with him smoking a cigar on his couch at home as he recounts the political career he had before moving into motorsport.
All of this was supplemented by interviews with other figures: Vergne’s father, several motorsport shooters, journalists Hazel Southwell (who is also, in full disclosure, a Jalopnik contributor) and James Allen, former drivers Dario Franchitti and David Coulthard. A highlight of these non-drivers was easily Southwell, whose biting criticisms of both drivers and other racing series were cutting in their truth but eloquently handled.
Ultimately, the conceit of the film is to draw attention to the whole “eco-friendly racing” thing that FE has developed and that has been slowly making a name for itself. It details the short history of the series up to that point, especially in the realm of technology, including the development of the higher-capacity batteries that were designed by McLaren and implemented for season five.
Plenty of people were quick to laugh at the series—its utilization of two cars per driver because a single battery couldn’t last the full race distance, its city center racing, its field of so-called F1 dropouts. And We Go Green honestly makes all those people seem pretty foolish: just because the series is different doesn’t mean it’s somehow lesser. The EV tech being developed via FE is more relevant to road car implementation than most of the technologies featured in F1 at this point.
F1 was actually a very big talking point in the film. The is the most globally known racing series—still biggest in the world—but here it’s positioned as perhaps not the most forward-thinking, possibly even a little bit of an enemy. To give an example of that effect: when at the end of the movie it was mentioned that Vergne received an offer for an (admittedly mediocre) F1 seat and turned it down to stay in FE where he would remain competitive, the theater erupted into applause. I didn’t think the positioning of these series as opposites was heavy-handed or cheesy, but I also anticipate that it might become a bit of a sore point for any diehard F1 fans watching.
I did think the film went a little light on some of the tech. It was there, but I wanted more about the powertrains, the design of each car based on battery position. I wanted to know how much cleaner FE is than your traditional racing series, in hard statistics. I wanted to know what FE is doing in the future to make their events cleaner.
The film seems largely directed at audiences who are unfamiliar with FE (or, honestly, even racing in general), which is probably smart. But then it presumes those audiences will have enough knowledge to fill in some pretty glaring gaps. While we learned early on how the championship format and points system worked, the film never once mentioned the race weekend format in and of itself.
I was willing to forgive the oversight, but unfortunately, it did become pretty obvious. At one point, And We Go Green focuses on Piquet Jr.’s disastrous Paris ePrix weekend, where he crashed his first car during first practice, then crashed his second car during second practice—leaving him with nothing to qualify in. Crashing two cars is obviously not ideal in and of itself, but knowing that an FE weekend consists of a single day as opposed to a traditional three-day format makes that whole incident so much more stressful.
And then there was the lack of attention given to the Zurich ePrix. That event marked the first race held in Switzerland in decades, and, given the documentary’s insistence that FE has done a great job of bringing eco-friendly racing to strange places, it seemed like that was a missed opportunity.
The film does not, however, pull its punches in regards to the fatal crash of F1 driver Jules Bianchi, who was close with Vergne. It shows an angle I’d pointedly avoided seeing myself, and was blacked out in F1’s Netflix series Drive to Survive. But it’s material when Vergne speaks of his experiences in racing over the past few years.
Vergne gets candid about the horrible year he had in 2014, where he lost his Toro Rosso seat in F1, got dropped from the Red Bull Junior Program entirely, and also lost fellow driver and good friend Bianchi. Vergne is so emotional that he can’t even talk about Bianchi’s death and even gets up and leaves the interview to compose himself. To me, it felt a little distasteful to then show the accident in full.
That said, though, I was glad to see such a difficult topic addressed. In 2014 I dedicated probably an excessive amount of my time and energy to rooting for both Vergne and Bianchi as my favorite drivers as underdogs with big potential for the future. As a race fan, that year was devastating. And We Go Green provided both the emotional discussion and the closure that I didn’t realize I’d been craving.
At the TIFF premiere, the audience had a real mix of racing knowledge. Some people, like myself, were hardcore motorsport fans who were stoked to see cars on the big screen. Others were techies looking for documentaries. Others were general film fans seeking out something different. Others were film industry professionals. And everyone seemed to enjoy it. It was a great blend of everything that makes Formula E great: competition, emotion, technology, ecological concern, and just plain ol’ fun.
Overall, And We Go Green is an exceptional movie. I can see it being a great introduction to FE for race fans who have yet to give the series a chance, for non-racing fans who are interested in some of the more out-there uses of eco-friendly tech, and even for hardcore FE fans who want a deeper dive into the sport they love. In my eyes, it was more effective than Drive to Survive, which I also adored in spite of its flaws. If you like that show, you’ll definitely like this.
There’s no word yet on a larger international distribution or digital release, but the directors at the premiere were confident we could expect the film to become available online soon. When it does, you all need to get out there and watch it.