2nd London Bicycle Film Festival - Review
10.09.06 by Buffalo Bill
First of all, I want to thank the organisers, the film-makers and in particular, Brendt Barbur, for bringing the 6th Annual Bicycle Film Festival to London again. I don’t really believe in coincidence, I think that things happen for a reason, but whatever you believe, there can be no doubt that of all weeks, this week was a great week to have the BFF in our city. The films, and the general euphoric atmosphere surrounding the Festival, have been the perfect counter-weight to all the ‘Share the Road’ bull-sh1t.
So thanks to Brendt, and the rest of his crew of volunteers and the film-makers. You really blew away Ken’s propaganda.
Anyway, on to the films. What follows is my own subjective view, which is no more or less valid than anyone else’s, ok? I am not a professional film critic, or a film-maker, just some guy with a big mouth and a web-site.
I saw a lot of films, but I think I only got to see around a third of the programmed films. 2 hours in a cinema is about as much as I can take, so I am going to write about the films that stood out, rather than review all of them in turn.
I really wanted to catch this, but due to unexpected emergency baby-sitting duties, I was unable to. Everyone I spoke to about it had a really strong reaction to it, and Lewis has been moved to start a thread on the MT forum about it. As I haven’t seen it, I can’t really comment – yet. London’s resident messenger Fellini, Jono, has promised me a review by the end of the week-end, so hopefully there’ll be something about it on the site soon.
YOGHURT vs GASOLINE
This was my out-right favourite. Part scrap-paper and felt-tip stop-motion, part live action, less than 10 minutes long, shot on mixture of bike mounted, low-resolution mini camera, hand-held cameras, and cctv, Y vs G documents a race in Manhattan from uptown to downtown between Van and Casey Neistat, Van powered by $1 worth of youghurt and riding a 1974 Schwinn roadster, and Casey powered by gasoline and riding a 900cc Ducati motorcycle. It was a light-hearted, witty, low-budget film with a serious message, a message that was well made without stooping to polemics. Absolutely brilliant. I got to see it twice, and to be honest, I could have watched it another five times and still found more in it to tickle me.
Another favourite, and also another film that I was happy to see twice. Bike Ride is a line-drawn, white on black film animation, under 10 mins, telling the story of an eight hour bike ride and a broken heart. Having made a long broken-hearted bike ride, I could relate to the well-told and funny story. The animation style was very simple, most of the action described in a single flowing line, humming with energy, and it was narrated by a single voice and scored by a single drummer. Despite the austerity of the production, it was warm and engaging.
A 3 min short, shot on a cam-corder, featuring one day of action in the woods somewhere in the UK, this was a feast of BMX jumps and tricks. To be perfectly honest, I could have watched another twenty minutes of this. The action was a well-edited mix of stunning air tricks (I don’t know any of the technical names for that stuff) and sickening crashes. I say sickening, but there is something about watching people wiping that really holds the attention, and the hapless falls made the audience laugh hard.
WRITTEN IN THE STREETS
Shot and edited in 2006 by Philip Diprose, this 12 min documentary was the product of literally 100s of hours of interviews of London bicycle messengers, and was a thoughtful portrait, through the words of various riders, of what it means to be a London messenger. I was a little nervous before the showing because I had given a long interview to Philip, during which I drank a lot of beer and talked for a long time. I could not remember anything I had said and I was wondering whether my big mouth would be getting me into trouble again. However, because Philip skilfully intercut the interviews to build up a collage of all our experiences and reflections, and edited under the narration some beautiful street-shots, obviously shot from a bike ridden by a more than competent city rider, the film was a rounded picture of London bicycle messengering. It was also the only messenger film that I saw in the two screenings that showed female messengers in more than simple walk-on parts.
I was lucky enough to catch a few moments with Brendt Barbur on Saturday afternoon, and among other things, we spoke about M.A.S.H.. Brendt said that he hoped that the film, which was beautifully photographed on yer actual movie stock, would raise the profile of San Francisco’s many fixed-wheel riders to the status of surfers, skaters and BMXers, showing that the skill and beauty with which the featured riders move through the city-scape is on a par with the best of the free-style artists.
I am not sure that the film achieved this goal, but San Francisco and its fixed-wheel riders can rarely have looked so beautiful. The opening sequence was a wide shot, showing a fixie rider descending one of SF’s many steep hills, and the viewer had a couple of minutes to pick out the rider, visible only as a dark silhouette, skidding and spinning down the concrete, barely slowing for the stop signs of the cross-streets.
Mike Thomas, who directed the film, is an accomplished film-maker, and there is no doubt that this is the most technically accomplished film ever to have been made about bicycle messengers. The riders featured showed off some impressive fixed-wheel skills, skids, jumps, wheelies, backwards, and were certainly showed to best advantage. However, I think the film suffered a little from being in the same programme as Lucas Brunelle’s DV film, which was screened earlier in the evening, and featured seemingly never-ending head-cam sequences shot during various NYC alleycats, and followed fixed-wheel riders as they hurtled through, around and in some cases, over New York’s traffic. Maybe I am getting old and jaded but there are only so many times I can watch fixie sequences, no matter how exciting they are (and Lucas’ footage is definitely exciting!). But as Brendt said to me, the Saturday 9pm show, billed as the messenger screening, was almost pure bike porn.
I would like to see M.A.S.H. again, although it was one of the few films in the festival that used the big screen properly and exploited light and movement fully, so it almost seems a crime to play it on a TV or a VDU.
Bike thieves are scum, right? Bike thieves deserve to be punished, right? The police never do anything about bike theft, right?
That was the premise of this film, which followed the efforts of a vigilante group of cyclists, who left a ‘bait bike’ unlocked on the street. The vigilantes then laid in wait, some concealed in a car (!) until an suspecting thief grabbed the bike. At this point, the do-gooders jumped the miscreant, knocked him to the ground, restrained him and tied his hands and feet. Having hobbled the thief, they then attached a sign to his back. On the sign were the words ‘I steal bicycles’ (I think that is what it said, but it was something along those lines). There was loud cheering from the audience at this point.
I wasn’t all that comfortable with the premise, and I certainly didn’t cheer. If the police had done the same thing to a messenger who hit and damaged a car and tried to run off, we would all be screaming about police brutality. Well, I would anyway. So I can’t see the justification for violating someone’s human rights in the way shown in the film. Also, bike thieves might be scum, but they only steal bikes because they know they can sell them on, so where was the section featuring false imprisonment and cruel and unusual punishment of stolen bike buyers, who create the demand that the thieves satisfy?
A thought-provoking film.
OTHER FILMS I SAW THAT I REALLY LIKED
Dominic Waugh’s Stop Nicking My Bike, a witty exposé of how easy it is to break a lock off a bike in a public place in broad day-light, with commentary from the film-maker about how having his bikes stolen made him feel; Dao and the Art of Bicycle Invention, which made a link between a super-volcano eruption in the early 19th Century and the invention of the bicycle; The Winking Circle, an inspirational documentary about a group of do it yourself community activists in Canada; Training Wheels, an impossibly cute stop-motion puppet film about an unhappy childhood experience with a bike; Ride On, a scrappy but enthralling documentary about ‘Midnite Riddaz’, the LA take on Critical Mass.
If I haven’t included a film from the BFF program above, I either didn’t see it (I only went to 2 screenings out of 7) or did like it but not all that much, or did see it and didn’t like it but don’t want to be negative.
Overall, I really enjoyed the screenings. I am looking forward to next year already, and thanks again to Brendt for bringing the BFF to London at a moment of great need, and many congratulations on organising such a sucessful event.
Oh, and Donny won the Lost in the Crowd Alleycat, and Therese Bjorn was first female. Donny said that he is going to donate £50 quid of his £125 first prize to the “Bicycle Messenger Emergency Fund (BMEF web-site)”:http://www.bicyclemessenger.com.
If you want more information about the films in the BFF, you can check the preview.