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Review of 'Pedal' - part of the Bicycle Film Festival
12.09.06 by Buffalo Bill

review by Jono Atkinson

“Sometimes I Pedal my bike so fast it feels like….it feels like i’m on the air……”

Criticism leveled at Pedal both on the night and since seems to
centre on the fact that the film maker has actively gone out to search for oddballs and dropouts who it has been said don’t reflect the reality of the messenger community. ‘Sensationalising’ and ‘misrepresenting’ messengerdom were a couple of
the comments I heard in response to the Bicycle Film Festival’s screening of Pedal this year.

The couriers shown in Pedal come from different backgrounds and experiences and found their way into messengering for many different reasons. The film shows the high energy and excitement that is the jobs draw, it is visually exciting and often comical. The film also looks at the other side of life as a messenger, often badly paid the courier faces danger at every turn and financial difficulties
when involved in an accident. One of the couriers in Pedal is homeless and facing drug problems.

Pedal, as in Sutherland’s other work, uses subcultures as the backdrop for an investigation into people, be that in the messenger world, the graffitti scene, skateboarding or contemporary artists, all of which are groups which exist on the margins of society and contain their fair share of “characters”. Sutherland looks for the darker side of humanity for his story, the underbelly of society and the marginal. But he is also looking for the special and the innovator, the character and the artist, the individual. These are characteristics to be celebrated and recorded.

Forever alive, forever forward, Stately, solemn, sad, withdrawn, baffled, mad, turbulent, feeble, dissatisfied, Desperate, proud, fond, sick, accepted by men, rejected by men, They go! they go! I know that they go, but I know not where they go, but I know that they go toward the best — toward something great.

If Walt Whitman’s “Song of the open road” is a celebration of humanities frailties and successes then Pedal celebrates the myriad of human qualities in the microcosm of the world of New York messengers. The proud courier with one leg and an adapted bike talks about his past with a kind of stately dignity. The courier who is forced by his position to live in a room deep under the city next to the subway is dissatisfied and sometimes desperate seeking solace in hard drugs which of course perpetuates his downward direction. Some of these couriers are accepted by one another but as the film emphasizes not by society in general.

Pedal of course is also a portrait of New York but this could be a portrait of any modern city, the streets as the arteries and veins and the occupants as the life blood that keeps the city flowing and alive. Peter Sutherland lives and works in New York and his work has been concerned with the city where he finds inspiration from Grafitti Artists, Skaters and Messengers and these have been the focus of his work so far.

Whitman’s question is also Sutherlands question: where do they go?

The question is partly answered in Pedal and shows some of the mysteries of what couriers see and experience as part of their daily work is revealed.

The experience of being a courier is a consuming one and it has made in part the subjects of the documentary what they are. But as one of the couriers says at the end of the film; if you can do anything else in life do it rather than becoming a messenger…..it is it seems easier to become a courier than it is to stop being one.

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