Judging by the musky, sweaty smell wafting throughout the room at a recent Bicycle Film Festival screening, my guess is that many in attendance pedalled their way there. A crowd of 100 or so, often in click-in bike shoes and ripped shorts, with messenger bags slung over their shoulders, grabbed bottles of beer and filed into a screening room at London's Barbican Centre for day two of the festival, which took place from September 23rd to 27th.
From May through December the Bicycle Film Festival travels around the world with a programme of low-budget film, art and music in celebration of bicycles and the people who ride them. London is one of 40 stops for this year's tour, up from 17 cities last year. Brent Barber, the festival's 38-year-old, hoodie-wearing director, founded the festival in 2001 after being hit by a bus while on his bike in New York.
"We decided we would get more organised," Barber said between films. "Basically, I finally learned how to develop a budget."
Barber's laid-back but earnest demeanour sets the tone for the festival. The opening night included a bike ride across London (a "changed place" now that there are so many commuter cyclists, Barber says), and a screening of "Breaking Away", a cycling film from 1979. Day two featured nearly a dozen short films, including "Made in Queens", about teenagers from Trinidad & Tobago who rig massive stereo systems to their BMX bikes in their New York neighbourhood (pictured below).
The evening's main event was a screening of "Where Are You Go", a film that follows a four-month bicycle ride spanning the length of Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town. Set to ethereal background music by such bands as Calexico, Dub Colossus and Tussle, the documentary is a sweeping, celebratory portrait of one group's long journey by pedal. It captures the range of emotion and physicality involved in such an arduous adventure.
One clip is of a tired woman walking her bike through sand while smoking a cigarette; another finds a man laughing at his cuts and bruises. One man rides a tall bike made from two welded bike frames for much of the journey, often while wearing a blazer. A young man from New York, while whizzing up and down on an old wooden roller-coaster somewhere in Africa, calmly discusses how the trip has helped him put life's problems in perspective.
"This festival has grown organically," Barber said. "In particular, it's been a major catalyst for urban bike culture; one of the biggest growths in youth culture in the past ten years." Barber already has plans to celebrate the festival's 10th year in New York City.
The Bicycle Film Festival. Remaining 2009 festival dates can be found here.
Picture credit: Tony the Misfit (via Flickr)