The David Millar Project: An Evening with David Millar
by Nick Gregory
On Monday night the Institute of Contemporary Arts played host to 'An Evening with David Millar' - an exclusive opportunity to hear the Garmin-Sharp veteran talk about life in the peloton, his impending final season as a pro and his unique collaboration with film maker Finlay Pretsell on the forthcoming 'David Millar Project': "A groundbreaking, immersive film capturing the very essence of professional cycling."
The venue, on The Mall in London, was a fitting one; not only does it sit just metres away from the finish line of the 2012 Olympic Road Race - a race that marked Millar's reintegration into the British Olympic cycling fold following his doping ban - but, in a parallel universe, the ICA could also have had additional significance for the Scot had he chosen to accept his place at art college rather than pursuing his dream of becoming a professional cyclist in Europe.
"I certainly wouldn't have sold the place out if I had", Millar quipped, referring to his apparent superiority with the bike than the paint brush. But sold it out he had, as members of the public flocked to be a part of the unique event. Earlier on, the evening had commenced with potential investors in the film having the opportunity to discuss the project on a more personal level with both Millar, and representatives of the two organisations behind it - Cycling Films and the Scottish Documentary Institute.
The film will be directed by Finlay Pretsell, and produced by Sonja Henrici. Pretsell has form - he won the BAFTA Scotland award for Best Short Film in 2008 with his work, 'Ma Bar', and if his previous forays into cycling film are anything to go by then this too will be a high-quality production. As a cyclist of reasonable note himself, Pretsell - with the help of Olympian, Craig MacLean - filmed 'Standing Start', a dramatic and explosive short film conveying the ferocity of track cycling.
Although in many ways the polar opposite, Millar too, like MacLean, makes for a fascinating subject; and what road cycling lacks in aggression, it will, no doubt, more than make up for on the big screen in suffering and beauty.
Millar was at his engaging, articulate and humorous best as he recalled, with fascinating detail, memories of his Champs Elysees breakaway heroics during the climax of this year's Tour de France. Juxtaposed against this - with chilling poignancy as the jersey in question was on display upstairs in the bar - Millar recounted the horror of claiming the Maglia Rosa during the 2011 Giro d'Italia on the same day that Wouter Weylandt tragically died.
However, as the evening progressed and topics of discussion ranged from glory in West Flanders to nightmares in the Alps, it was impossible for all present not to be immediately struck by the fact that there couldn't be a better lead-out man to guide the public through the crazy world of pro cycling than the polarising Scot.
At a time when cycling is increasingly coming under fire for what some see as the clinical, robotic approach of Team Sky, Millar - with the mentality that brought him a sensational stage win in the 2012 Tour de France - has flourished as a throwback to the sport's more romantic days. Whilst both he and Pretsell were keen to stress that this wouldn't be a 'fly-on-the-wall' biopic, this appeal only bodes well for interest in the film itself.
When questioned on the exact details and aims for his 2014 season, Millar refreshingly summed up his present outlook by stressing, "I just want to have fun and race my bike." It might sound simplistic, but it is a sentiment that has been too often overlooked by many in recent times. With every headline seemingly dominated by either the soap opera that the Armstrong affair has become, or the domestic unrest between Britain's two leading Grand Tour contenders, this project looks set to offer a timely reminder of what professional cycling is really about, and why it is both the most beautiful and brutal sport of them all.
That said - what is looking likely to be the itinerary for Millar's final season couldn't have worked out more perfectly for the film, with a Tour de France starting in the UK, a Commonwealth Games being held in Scotland and concluding in his adopted home, Spain, with the Vuelta and the World Championships.
Whilst notable cycling films like 'A Sunday in Hell' have centred on a particular race, or others such as 'Moon Rider' depict one pro's inner conflict and turmoil within the context of professional cycling, you get the sense that the Millar project will present a narrative that is more reflective of the sport itself, rather than the individual. Hopefully this means it will fill the cinematic void that exists at present surrounding the world of pro bike racing as a whole.
It was a desire to fill that same void - in a different medium - that motivated Millar to write his excellent book, 'Racing Through the Dark.' In time, the film could well prove to be for cycling, what Douglas Gordon's 'Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait' has become for football.
How do you want to be remembered?
When the question was put to Millar his answer was simple: "Just as a good bike racer." However, he went on to add, with a rueful air of resignation, "It won't be, it'll be the ex-doper turned anti-doping crusader etc etc..."
Maybe this can change that; maybe the film can add yet another significant layer to Millar's already fascinating legacy, ensuring that - with the help of Pretsell - his final act in the sport he clearly cares dearly about is to show it to the world at its most beautiful, after years in the darkness.
To find out more about the David Millar Project, visit www.davidmillarfilm.com.
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