Malibu ‘Unchained’

To great critical success, one local man’s film has captured the intensity, excitement and dedication in the world of the unusual sport of freestyle motocross. 

Calling it a “highly personal movie for me,” 20-year Point Dume resident Paul Taublieb wrote, directed and produced the film “Unchained: The Untold Story of Freestyle Motocross.” It tells the story of the emergence of the sport. 

“It’s a lifestyle sport of guys pushing the limits on motorcycles with tricks and competition,” Taublieb explained. The seasoned filmmaker and producer was involved in launching the sport that’s a hybrid of gymnastics on motorcycles. 

“I really wanted to make the film because when people think of crazy guys on motorcycles doing back flips, it has this aura of a bunch of silly kids doing dumb things and getting hurt,” but that’s not the case, according to Taublieb. “Because I was an eyewitness (to its birth), I saw the human drama of what these athletes do and how courageous they are to continually push progression—put their lives and bodies at risk,” Taublieb continued. “It was inspiring the way they would go through these challenges and always get back on their feet. The message of the movie is: Things are hard, things are tough, things don’t always go your way, but these guys embody this idea of picking yourself up and having courage and the mental fortitude to go on.”

Freestyle motocross started 20 years ago, born from a movie called “Crusty Demons of Dirt.” 

Taublieb explained the “huge impact” the movie had on the emergence of the new sport. 

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“A guy in the movie did a jump out in the desert —about 300 feet—and crashed in sand. It was spectacular,” Taublieb said. “When the video came out, it blew everybody’s mind. It was the birth of the sport that took place in that one instant. This is the days of VHS. There’s no YouTube—no internet. 

“I saw the video and at the time I was involved in producing TV events of surfing, snowboarding and said, ‘Wow, this is amazing. Let’s turn this into a sport.’ So that’s what I did,” the director said. “I took this free riding—this play riding—and codified it into a competitive format and brought it to ESPN and said, ‘This needs to be its own category of sport.’”

But the sports network wasn’t buying at first. 

“They said, ‘It’s the worst idea we’ve ever heard. This is dangerous. It’s irresponsible and the traditional world of motocross thinks it’s a terrible idea,’” Taublieb recounted. “But we were able to talk them into doing it.” It was a ratings success and added to the X Games, which Taublieb has produced. 

Susan Cooper, Taublieb’s wife and partner in Taublieb Films, remarked on the incredible skills of the athletes in “Unchained.” 

“They’re gymnasts,” Cooper said. “When they’re flipping a motorcycle or putting their legs up in the air and they’re upside down, it requires the strength and technical skill of a gymnast in addition to dealing with the machine they control.”

Taublieb added that the participants are world class athletes.

“Certainly, if you’re going to fall down really hard from going really high and really fast, you want to be as fit as possible so your musculature can give you as much protection in a dangerous sport,” Taublieb added. 

“The biggest moment in the sport came when a rider back flipped a motorcycle,” the filmmaker described. “People thought that was insane and impossible. That raised the stakes and the danger and changed the course of the sport and the characters in it. It’s a very personal character-driven movie of the different guys who’ve pioneered this.” 

Cooper said the point of the film was to help audiences understand the athletes and what their motivation is.

“The families, in addition to the men—it tends to be men—is to understand their complete dedication and sacrifice,” Cooper said. “They are incredible athletes. It takes tremendous devotion to be willing to face death. I don’t know any other sport where you’re asked to face death over and over and what that does for your families—your spouses—the tremendous pressure every time you try to get a medal.” While deaths in the sport are rare, Taublieb said, “We tell the story of one rider who had a big impact that sobered everyone up.” 

The Malibu International Film Festival opens Saturday with a screening of the film, narrated by Point Dume resident Josh Brolin. 

“Because we’re all Malibu locals, it makes it exciting to be in the MIFF. That’s what makes Malibu a unique community. We really are like a big family and community that works together,” Cooper commented. 

Brolin, also executive producer, will be on hand to host the screening.

“Unchained” has already won the Emmy as the best sports film of 2017.

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