The movie McLaren opened in cinemas this week and tells a story of an incredible New Zealander - race driver and car designer Bruce McLaren.

Aucklander McLaren left New Zealand at the age of 20 and would go on to succeed as one of the best drivers in the world but it would be his ability to design and create that helped establish his legacy.

"I remember the shock of the country and I remember feeling the sadness that this young guy had his life cut short," the film's director Roger Donaldson told herald.co.nz. "I also think there is an element like those people from the past whose lives were cut short like Buddy Holly or Marilyn Monroe - what would have happened if they had lived longer?"

Donaldson, who is famous for directing legendary motoring films Smash Palace (1982) and The World's Fastest Indian (2005), saved his best work for this documentary.

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Inspired by his own memories of McLaren and his love of motorsport Donaldson combined rare archive footage, present day interviews and recreated scenes using audio from very personal McLaren family tapes to tell a story that will showcase how a New Zealander with incredible talent and vision inspired one of the world's most renowned sports and luxury car manufacturers.

"One of the reasons I was attracted to this movie when I was asked to direct it was that, as a boy, I saw Bruce McLaren drive," Donaldson said. "I borrowed a race car off his father that was in Smash Palace. I'm crazy about car racing and many people have no idea that the McLaren car company is named after Bruce McLaren - a New Zealander, who went off to England at the age of 20 with a bunch of his petrol head mates and started building cars."

Some of the biggest names in motorsport feature in the film - Sir Jackie Stewart, Mario Andretti and the late Chris Amon to name a few. Donaldson said he didn't have to work hard to convince these people to be involved in the documentary.

"One of the things I realized is that anyone that is interested in motorsport realizes the significance of Bruce McLaren in the history of NZ motor racing and world motor racing and they were just jumping at the opportunity to be part of this film.

"I think if I achieved anything with the film is that I managed to convince or persuade the people who were part of Bruce's life to be prepared to talk openly and candidly about it and reveal their true emotions about how much Bruce actually meant to them all these years later."

The film builds to an emotional crescendo that concludes with McLaren's death in a testing accident at Goodwood. Some of the guests had never spoken about that experience in the 47 years since the fateful day.

To add to the emotion a number of the people featured in the film passed away in the time that it has been in production.

"Chris Amon passed away, Patty McLaren, Phil Kerr all passed away during the making of the film," Donaldson explained. "They still had their marbles about them. That was maybe another reason why they were prepared to speak so candidly about the past because they knew that life was not going to go forever.

"I think one of the things that would be nice to achieve with this film is to see Bruce recognized as the significant New Zealander that he was and to see the connection between Bruce McLaren and the McLaren car company be very clear and to understand that the logo on the front of the McLaren car is actually a Kiwi.

"I think this is an important New Zealand story that has never really been told."