22 May 2009 - 12:41 PM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:07 PM

Dan Jones – Detour De France

Debut Australian filmmaker DAN JONES gets the wheels in motion with his raucous documentary travelogue DETOUR DE FRANCE. BY FILMINK'S BRIAN DUFF

The Tour De France is a tremendously ordered and internationalist sporting event, infused with French peculiarity and self-seriousness. For the uninitiated, the whole thing can feel very foreign. Detour De France, debut filmmaker Dan Jones' crack at an event travelogue, thus comes as a bit of a surprise, as it's imbued with Dionysian revelry and is conspicuously devoid of scholastic self-seriousness.

“The film is, first and foremost, a story of this crew of Aussie adventurers, with the 2005 Tour De France just blended in,” explains Jones. Along for the ride is “straight man” Denis Donoghue, a radio journalist covering his fifth Tour; ex-professional cyclist John Trevorrow; and hell-man Bill Schwarzenberg, who's keen on draining the country of rosé.

True to its dictum, Detour follows a character-based development, dipping in and out of the actual racing on a whim, usually through the quiet assurance of Donoghue's narration. “It was tough having Schwarzenberg on screen,” claims Jones. “He pulls the film away from the bikes.” Back home, the team brought in diehard fans for their opinions, and learned that “they really don't like Bill. The mix that we have now is pretty good, not just for cycling fans, but to people who know nothing about the sport. That was the toughest part to get right. We didn't want to upset the die hard fans.”

Technically, the film is a fly-by-night operation, with the concept first floated a mere three weeks before departure, and the thrust of the narrative decided in the editing and post-production. “We went without a solid plan,” Jones remembers. “We originally wanted to create an hour-long programme for SBS, and then because there had been [local] releases of [German cycling film] Hell On Wheels and [the British cycling film] Overcoming, we thought that maybe we could do a limited cinema run.”

Still, Jones is insistent that Detour De France will find its audience because of its balance of on-and off-road coverage, and the fact that he went into the project with the ethos of “making a film my grandmum could enjoy,” claiming that “if you go after the hardest market first, the others are that much easier to find.”

It helps that 2005 was rife with colour and circumstance, as it marked famed American cyclist Lance Armstrong's last Tour and record seventh victory. On hand was then-girlfriend and rock singer Sheryl Crow, director Ron Howard and former US presidential hopeful John Kerry (all of whom appear on camera), while Australian racer Robbie McEwen had another banner year and it was the tenth anniversary of the death of Italian cyclist Fabio Casartelli. “You can't really plan for that stuff,” says Jones. “But if we had done it in [drug scandal-tainted] 2006, it would have been extremely difficult to get the film done. We were really lucky in that way.”