© Photos provided by Riyaana Hartley
Beyond Driven is the first and latest documentary exploring the life of Lella Lombardi, the first female driver to win world championship points, and the burning legacy she has left behind. It features interviews with current drivers such as Tatiana Calderon, Beitske Visser, Alice Powell, Vicky Piria, Carmen Jorda, and the Al Qubaisi sisters. We had the opportunity to talk to co-producer, co-director, and co-writer of the film, Riyaana Hartley, to hear about the story behind the scenes. Let’s see how the idea come about and how Riyaana and her partner Vincent Tran put everything together to get the exhilarating story of this pioneer to the world.
The larger than life, superhero story
Lella’s story and what she sought to do in her life, gave Vincent and I chills. It was like a spiritual calling to honor this woman’s life and legacy. There was a very deep understanding of what she was trying to do with her time on this earth.
In recent years, we’ve had the likes of Rush and Ford v Ferrari (Le Mans ‘66 in the European market) telling a fictional version of a motorsport story and getting attention during the award season. For Riyaana and Vincent, the story they first envisioned for Lella (and is still pursuing to get produced) is not simply a biopic based on her career or a key event of her career like those two movies mentioned. What they have in mind is a narrative version of her story which makes her the superhero of her time. “The intention of the narrative version was to elevate her basic biography to something more like a modern-day superhero film. Love Entertainment, our production company has been championing and advocating for female-driven stories. What we find fun to do is to elevate women to the status of a superhero, and to creatively convey what they’ve accomplished in their lives using all the tools and tricks of cinema, so people can have an experience of these women as being larger than life. We wanted to not just let the world know what she did in motorsport. We wanted to make her a myth legend.”
From a film financing point of view, it’s something people don’t feel confident, they don’t align with the vision.
However, the motion picture business is always a high-risk gamble. More films fail every year than becoming a billion-dollar grosser. For the narrative version of the story Riyaana and Vincent wanted to develop, years of time and millions of dollars would be required to be invested with no certain reward at all. To get the story out to the world, Riyaana and Vincent decided to make a documentary version first. “We had such grand aspiration for how we wanted to tell that story, it would’ve been a many-year process. We got the sense early on that there aren’t that many people who are willing to put their money where their mouth is. Thankfully, while we were deep in research and development for the fictional narrative version, we realized we actually have a good documentary here already. We decided to go the documentary route when we were at that fork in the road. We knew we could execute, get it done, and get it released.”
It was so much more important to make sure the story saw the light of day and actually make it out there than taking this even bigger gamble, waiting a few years, knocking on doors, and trying to make this big blown-out version.
With their track record of making profitable female-driven content for 10 years, Riyaana and Vincent were able to finance the documentary with their long-term, like-minded private investors, friends, and family.
Putting the pieces together
Growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, with a father and some cousins passionate about racing, Riyaana has had quite some exposure to motorsport, including experiencing race weekends at the circuits. However, being familiar with the sport is one thing, having enough connections in the sport to actually make the documentary happen is another thing. Neither Riyaana nor Vincent had previous professional experience working in motorsport, and they have no affiliations with official organizations in the sport either. So sorting out who are the women they could potentially feature in the documentary and reaching out to them was one of the first steps in preparation for the film.
For professional drivers, a racing season is usually filled up with races, training, and commercial commitment. For Riyaana and Vincent, to fit their interviews for the documentary into all the drivers’ busy schedules, and to align all the time slots so they can cover more drivers in their limited time frame was quite a production project. “Vincent sought out all the young female drivers competing. There was a much longer list to begin with. The nature of production is, you don’t always get what you asked for. We would’ve had 19 women in this film if it were possible. We had to make some very tough choices, it’s all based around our window to travel, our budget, and the drivers’ schedule. Hats off to our team of not giving up. Some of the interviews were up in the air up until the night before we were shooting!”
It is common knowledge of motorsport fans that funding, or the lack of it, is usually the heartbreaker that stops a driver from pursuing their dream. On their quest to top-level racing such as Formula 1, many drivers have to step away from what they love when they don’t have the money to pay for their seats. This is especially true for female drivers. Riyaana and Vincent realized this through their research quickly too, and they were amazed by how it became a prominent theme in the interviews. “We knew lack of funding was a major contributing factor that was holding women back, but we honestly had no idea how bad it was. Because this is a documentary, it’s for everyone’s benefit to go in with an open mind. We didn’t want to take what we were capturing and force it to fit our opinion. It was sad to find out how true it was, and ultimately how central to their impediment. ”
The key piece missing is the willingness to put your money where your mouth is.
What’s worse than simply not putting forward the money, is showing interest in funding a driver, but then only do the lip service. When Riyaana and Vincent realized this is the direct cause of the problem, the mission of the film became clearer. “A lot of people get phenomenal lip service of advocating for women in sport, but it’s such a small fraction of those people who will actually follow it up by financing a season for a driver. When we spoke to the drivers, it was 100% consistent, they all have had the exact same experiences of getting the sense that people holding the per-strings didn’t believe that a woman can get them the return on that investment. I feel strongly that what will impact the most change is what the women are already doing, which is growing their individual followings. Our mission with this film was to get these women as much exposure as possible. We want them to have millions of followers so that sponsors actually go to them and say how can we support you.”
When it is so obvious what these women have to go through to pursue their passion, when they have to do above and beyond what’s expected of men to get an opportunity, when it is beyond just motrosport and the love of speed, it was easy for Vincent to come up with the title and give it meanings. Beyond Driven – this is about women, about heroes, about everything.
These women are not like other people at all. It takes a certain character to commit your life to something like this, when everyone and everything is telling you ‘no you shouldn’t’, ‘why are you doing this’, ‘you’re crazy’, ‘don’t waste your time’, ‘don’t waste your money’. In the most profound ways, I experienced what it means to be a champion. Their mentality, their mindset, their attitude is so pure and stellar when it comes to the sport.
Giving the story to the world
The mission of the movie is to get the story to as many people as possible and give these women the exposure they deserve. North American rights have been acquired by Gravitas Ventures and international distribution is taken care of by Kleidescope. In addition, for a story and topic that inspires a lot of discussions, a conversation with the filmmakers and women in motorsport is oftentimes in high demand. “We’ve had many interests overseas to piggyback on a screening to drum up support for women’s program, or for auto museums facilitating exhibits about women. One of the greatest joys and benefits of this kind of project is to take it to the public and having the opportunity to speak to people and answer questions and invite drivers from that part of the world to share the stage.”
Currently, due to restrictions on travel and public gatherings, the screenings and panel discussions have been postponed. We hope once we move past the pandemic and its aftermath, motorsport fans can enjoy the documentary not only on digital platforms, but also have face-to-face discussions with Riyaana and Vincent at screenings.
Beyond Driven is now available in North America digitally on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube Movie, Google Play, and other TVOD platforms. A UK release is set for July 20th on SKY, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play, and many more platforms. Release dates for Latin America and selected markets in Asia will be confirmed soon. In the meantime, if you are not in North America, you can check out the official trailer here: