Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Crash and Burn


Aoife O’Neill was in pole position at the Cork Film Festival for a screening of Crash and Burn, Seán Ó Cualáin’s documentary about Tommy Byrne from Dundalk, who, in the ’80s, for a moment was the world’s greatest F1 driver.


In the words of director Seán Ó Cualáin, Crash and Burn is one of the most “important sporting stories never told”, until now. The documentary follows the story of Tommy Byrne, a local lad from Drogheda with big ambitions and talent to match. From humble beginnings of driving a mini cooper, he wins every race that is set in front of him and finally gets the opportunity to race for Formula One.


However, getting to the Formula One platform was easier than staying there. This documentary is not just a sport film, this is a character portrait of a man’s struggles to come to terms with a career that has passed.


Born in the back of a car rushing to get to the hospital, it seems Byrne’s need for speed and cars was there since birth. According to himself, he learnt more from crashing than anything else, even though crashing for Byrne was rare. Driving each race as if it were his last, Byrne often struggled to finance his racing dream. Were it not for the support of friends and family financing his dreams from across the pond, Byrne may not have achieved what he did. His struggles to get from one race to the next adds suspense in the documentary and that audience constantly wonders how Byrne will be able to continue to race against his highly sponsored competitors.


Byrne’s, at times, abrasive personality rubbed many of the major names in the world of racing the wrong way. This is in conflict with the audiences appreciation of his blunt character, which makes for humorous viewing and honest critique of the sport. The documentary is comprised of interviews with Byrne’s colleagues and friends who helped with the documentary by supplying achieve footage and photographs of Byrne in his previous racing days. The mix of animation, interviews, live action and archive footage sequences enhances the documentary, with the archived footage giving a vintage, VHS charm.


It is through one animation sequence that we see the paths of Ayrton Senna and Tommy Byrne cross, as the once teammates didn’t have the most amorous relationship. Similarly, this film has parallels with that of Senna (2010), both films highlight the dangers and corruption that is involved in the world of racing. Unlike Senna, Byrne struggled to finance his races and didn’t have a choice between winning or not; either win or it is the last race.


Producer David Burke explains that the documentary humbly began with a series of emails. Although Byrne was skeptical of the documentary at first, he was told that at least it would be the “best home movie for your grandkids”. However, Crash and Burn is far better than a home movie and a must-see documentary. Byrne’s flamboyant character and good sense of humour is endearing and engaging. Having met him after the screening it is safe to say that he is the same in the real life as he is captured in screen.


Throughout the film we get an insight into the highs and lows of his career as he was beaten by the system despite being the “best in the world at what he did”. Byrne’s personality on screen makes for an enjoyable and captivating documentary, ironic as it is the same personality blamed for his career downfall. A documentary cleverly crafted for both an outside viewer and an avid fan of racing. Through interviews we are given a fascinating and unique insight into low-level racing. These interviews explain the sport and race system, ensuring the documentary doesn’t fall into niche markets. A truly riveting documentary, that allows for Irish viewers a look at the best racer probably in the world that came from a local town in Drogheda.


Crash and Burn screened on 19th November 2016

The Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November



‘Crash and Burn’ Opening Night Q&A in IFI

Tommy Byrne Crash and Burn

Matt Cooper, the host of Today FM’s popular radio show The Last Word will interview the motor racing legend Tommy Byrne in a post-screening Q&A at the IFI’s special opening night screening of Crash and Burn next Friday 2nd December.  The film’s award-winning director Seán Ó Cualáin will also take part in the live interview where audience members will have the opportunity to ask Tommy and Sean questions too.

Tommy was the equivalent of George Best and Muhammad Ali of the 80’s motor racing scene and Crash and Burn charts how he went from driving a Mini Cooper in stock-car racing to the big-time in Formula One in a little over four years and shows that for a fleeting moment was the best driver in the world and a serious rival of Ayrton Senna’s.  Eddie Jordan the former team-owner, who worked with both Senna and Michael Schumacher has said:  ‘Forget Schumacher and Senna. Tommy Byrne was the best of them all.’

Tommy’s rise was meteoric and his fall spectacular.  He was a cocky, aggressive driver from humble roots and the F1 glitterati simply didn’t like the mix. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Seán Ó Cualáin, the documentary shines a light on one of professional racing’s most dashing and charismatic talents and a glittering career that was doomed before it ever began.  It is the story of the greatest F1 driver never to emerge.

The five-star reviewed Crash and Burn has been going down a storm with audiences at the Galway Film Fleadh and the Cork Film Festival in Ireland as well as the prestigious Sheffield DocFest and this week’s screening in Picturehouse Central London in the UK.

The film will be released in Irish cinemas on Friday 2nd December.  The special opening night screening will take place in the Irish Film Institute on Friday 2nd December at 6.30pm.  Tickets are now on sale on the IFI website.


Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Crash and Burn


Seán Crosson zooms in on Crash and Burn, Seán Ó Cualáin’s documentary about Tommy Byrne, who, for a fleeting moment in the early ’80s, was the world’s greatest driver.

The sports documentary has become one of the most familiar and popular documentary genres in recent years. While well-established as a part of TV schedules, films such as Dogtown and Z-boys (2002), Step into Liquid (2003), Riding Giants (2004), Murderball (2005) and Senna (2010) have also had considerable success in cinemas internationally. The prominence of sport in Irish life has also been reflected in the documentary form with some of the most successful theatrically released Irish docs over the past ten years focusing on sport, including Saviours (2007) and Waveriders (2008).

Seán Ó Cualáin’s Crash and Burn, focusing on the world of motor-racing, is the latest addition to this genre. It concerns Drogheda-born Tommy Byrne who briefly drove in Formula One after a stellar career at lower levels of motor- racing. However, this is no Senna (though the Brazilian makes an appearance at several points); this is a story that challenges the familiar upward trajectory of the sports film (whether in fiction or documentary), tracing the journey of a driver who had all the talent and more of his contemporaries but lacked the background, social graces, and particularly the money required of those who control Formula One.

Nonetheless, the respect with which Byrne was held by his contemporaries is evident in the prominent interviewees featured in Crash and Burn, including former Formula One team owner Eddie Jordan (who regards Byrne as ‘the best of them all’), and former Formula One drivers and current TV commentators Martin Brundle and David Kennedy. Byrne’s story is remarkable, from his rivalry with Ayrton Senna at Formula Ford and Formula 3 level to his final years as a driver for corrupt gangsters on the Mexican Formula 3 circuit.

Director Ó Cualáin claims not to have seen Senna and his documentary provides, in important respects, a more complex depiction of the world of Formula One than Asif Kapadia’s entertaining though rather superficial documentary. Crash and Burn shares with Senna, however, a dependence on archive footage, much of it captured on VHS by friends of Byrne’s. Where footage was not available, Ó Cualáin  makes good use of animated sequences. Despite the low-quality of the original material, considerable work has been put into bringing consistency across the footage (both filmed and archival) in the final film. The archival material is intercut with interviews with Byrne who recalls his own journey from Drogheda to Formula One, offering in the process a fascinating and frank perspective on his sport.

Despite having been the fastest driver at all levels below Formula One, and proving himself the fastest when given an opportunity in the best car at that level, he was ultimately excluded from the sport, his life subsequently declining into excessive drinking and drug-taking and periods spent at the lower rungs of motor-racing in the US and Mexico. This is not, however, a tragic story despite Byrne’s failure to realise his own Formula One dreams. As he remarked in conversation at the end of the screening in Galway “life is pretty good right now. I just lost out on about $100m”. These words sum up a theme across Ó Cualáin’s film; Tommy continues to be unhappy with how he was forced out of the sport but nonetheless he has rebuilt his life and now works as a driving instructor in the United States.

Whether you have an interest in Formula One or not, Crash and Burn is an engaging, and at times moving account of an extraordinary life.


Crash and Burn screened on Sunday, 10th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.