Review: Mondo Sahara

When I was at Overland Expo, I had the chance to take in the world premiere Austin Vince’s latest movie, Mondo Sahara (you can find reviews of two his previous films here). Vince said the film might be tweaked a bit more for its DVD release, but essentially, I saw the finished product

Here’s what the film’s all about.

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The Cast: Austin Vince, Gabriel Bolton, Paul Castle, James Duveen (from the UK) Joe McManus, Eric Sowle, Pablo Gustavson (from the US)
The Plan: Ride 4,000 miles off-road through the deserts of Spain and North Africa
The Budget: As always, with Vince’s expeditions, minimal

Austin Vince’s two best-known films, Mondo Enduro and Terra Circa, feature a common theme: They take a crew of riders around the world, with former Soviet bloc countries featuring prominently in their travels.

In Mondo Sahara, Vince changes things up: He doesn’t travel to Russia. He doesn’t even ride a DR350. Brother Gerald Vince isn’t even along for the ride this time (although he does help with the prep work). Instead, Vince and his team head to the deserts of Mauritania from London, almost entirely off-road. His mission? He wants to prove long-distance motorcycle adventure is within the average working person’s grasp.

Instead of dropping wads of cash on shiny new mega-adventure bikes, Vince and crew are aboard used Honda XR400s. They’re a bit better prepared than the riders in Vince’s previous films – they’re wearing armour, the bikes get a proper going-over before they go, they have a GPS – but when you watch the film, you still see a lot of homemade kit. There certainly isn’t a chase truck.

Whether its the Super 8 camera work, the side trip through Spanish spaghetti western sets, or even the vintage soundtrack, Mondo Sahara is full of throwbacks.
Whether its the Super 8 camera work, the side trip through Spanish spaghetti western sets, or even the vintage soundtrack, Mondo Sahara is full of throwbacks.

Vince is a lover of the past, and this film shows it with its story and even its cameras, with a mix of Super 8 warmth combined with modern film work as the team rides to Africa through the same Spanish deserts where spaghetti westerns were shot in the 1960s and 1970s. Vince also shares tales of bygone conflicts in the African areas they ride through – explorers and soldiers and locals spent years shooting it out amidst the dunes, and the team is able to use some of their old traveling routes.

This is a grand adventure, and everyone’s enthusiasm is infectious – as is their disappointment when Vince’s motor blows up in Africa; with Sowle’s help, he’s soon able to rejoin the rest of the group, as they rip around the Sahara, locating food, water and gas supplies that have been buried in the sand for them ahead of time.

In case you didn’t know, Mauritania doesn’t have a reputation as being a super-friendly place to visit, but that’s part of the reason for Vince’s trip. When he originally conceived the plan for this jaunt, he’d tentatively titled it “Americans Without Guns.” While today’s media is constantly bombarding us with news clips telling us to avoid travel, as the world is a dangerous place, Vince disagrees. A pacifist (you could possibly call him militant about the subject), he thinks people can get along just fine without bombing each other, and wanted to prove it.

In fact, one of his best stories at the film’s premiere involved a team member accidentally squirting suntan lotion in a checkpoint soldier’s face mid-route, which had about the same effect as tear gas. Vince was sure the trip would end right there, with a lot of gun pointing and yelling, but the soldier wiped the chemicals from his eyes and laughingly waved them on.

Mondo Sahara rider James Duveen flogs his XR400 in the desert. Photo: Facebook
Mondo Sahara rider James Duveen flogs his XR400 on an African beach. Photo: Facebook

Sadly, they didn’t catch this on video, and the other social commentary doesn’t really feature in the film either. This is a movie about a motorcycle adventure, and it’s worth watching. It got two rounds of applause at the premiere, and if you liked Vince’s other movies, chances are you’ll like this one.

Austin Vince presents his new film, with a few Mondo Sahara members in back. A few audience members preferred his earlier works, or had suggestions about changes they might have liked, but overall, mostly everybody seemed to really enjoy the film. Photo: Zac Kurylyk
Austin Vince presents his new film, with a few Mondo Sahara members in back. A few audience members preferred his earlier works, or had suggestions about changes they might have liked, but overall, mostly everybody seemed to really enjoy the film. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

This movie is more polished than Vince’s other work, and he actually had help behind the camera (team member Gustavson does the Super 8 filming). It has plenty of retro-themed flair, but in many ways this film is an improvement over Mondo Enduro and Terra Circa.

It may not be as epic a journey – it’s only a few weeks long, and only covers a few countries – but the point of this film is to prove you can afford this sort of trip. The American team members reckoned it cost them between $6,000 and $10,000 to do it – not exactly cheap, but something you could save up for, or perhaps you could sell a kidney.

But for now, you should start saving up for the film’s DVD release, sometime this fall. I don’t know when it will be picked up by a North American distributor, or how much it will cost, but I’m sure motivated individuals can get their hands on a copy.

Team navigator Paul Castle's "office." Photo: Facebook.
Team navigator Paul Castle’s “office.” Photo: Facebook.

If you’re inspired after you watch it, that’s great -Vince wants people to get motivated to get out there and travel. But don’t think you can just call him and pay him to take you on the same tour. He wants you to plan your own trips and see the world for yourself.

So, even if you’re on CMG-grade wages, and only have minimal time off, surely you can plot a trip somewhere. Mondo Labrador, anyone?

Watch the trailer below:

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