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Sunday, July 27, 2008


Bicycle Film Festival

cyclists and bikes waiting outside the Victoria Theater, San Francisco[Image: Bicycles and cyclists line Capp Street while waiting for the final program of the Bicycle Film Festival.]

The fabulous Bicycle Film Festival ( returned to San Francisco this week as part of its 17 city world tour, and brought us an excuse to hang out with other cyclists INDOORS on warm nights. I went to events on three nights: the bike-art show, Program 2, and Program 7 of films.


The art show was at the Bottle Capp Gallery at 180 Capp Street, an exotic space that went all the way through to Mission Street, with access for the full depth of the building on the higher floors. It was difficult to tell what the space has been originally built for. (I asked the artist staffing the front desk/booming-microphone, and he said that the building had a long history as, among other things, a sweatshop and a place for growing pot.)

We waited in a pleasantly lit bar/speakeasy area overlooking Mission Street while waiting for the gallery to open. I was a bit concerned, since none of the art in the bar area was bike-related at all... but then the gallery facing Capp Street opened up, and I overcame my shock at how long the building is again to enjoy the art.
bar gallery, Bottle Capp Gallery, San Francisco
bike art at the Bottle Capp Gallery, San Francisco

Photography was the favored medium, but there were also charming drawings, several sculptures, and some sewn pieces: the promotional poster's graphic features layers of stitched bicycles in 3-D-like red and green. [I can hear Steven scolding me again for not providing any bike art for consideration for this year's Winterfest... I'll get to it, really I will... Maybe.]


Brendt Barbur, the festival's organizer, often gives excellent, highly informal tidbits of inspiration. Last year, he spoke of how we will look back on these early days of the worldwide bicycle movement with pride, because it is going to evolve into something highly important for a wider part of society. This year, he entertained us with words about how the festival differs in different countries: in Italy (Milan), the festival features a five course meal prepared entirely by volunteers; in Japan (Tokyo), the volunteers staffing the festival wear uniforms, form a line, and bow to the attendees as they arrive...

Ines Brunn at the Bicycle Film Festival, San FranciscoThe live highlight of the festival was Ines Brunn (, a phenomenal acrobat who appeared to defy gravity and physics to perform some TRULY REMARKABLE FIXED GEAR BIKE TRICKS. We were amazed. Go to her website and watch the video that is on the very front page - watch it all the way through. This will give you some idea, though the video has been edited to leave out the amazing transitions she makes from one trick to another, all of which are worth watching. Actually, that was what made them real - watching her get the bike up to speed and then do these completely improbable, dangerous stunts on the stage... Really. Go watch the video. Watch it NOW!!! She is awesome.


Ines DOMINATED Program 2, which contained 13 short films. The next highlight was a music video called "What's a Girl to Do" by Bat for Lashes (on, which was primarily entertaining because it made no sense at all. A girl is singing about her love going cold, while biking down a nighttime highway with men on bikes around her wearing animal heads and performing bike tricks. It is funny, in a vaguely surreal way. This is what YouTube is for, right?

There were also brief glimpses of cyclists participating in a/the Tour of Africa, and interviews with New Yorkers about the bike movement there.

Program 7's 15 films had a sort of common theme. If I had to sum it up, it would be: "Boys like to film themselves doing stunts." Last year's program (especially the one I referred to as 'the children's program') had plenty of this, but there was a sort of... prettiness to it? Elegance? Variety? It seemed like some of the riding was about grace, and not just about imitating skateboarding tricks on a fixie.

This year, it was more about imitating skateboarding tricks on a fixie. It was as if many of the boys were saying, I can go up a wall forward and then slide down it in reverse! Over and over! Wheee! To quote the woman a few seats away, "Didn't we just see this? Like, eight times?"

Problem: Ines Brunn had just done all of the tricks these boys were doing and more before Program 2 , LIVE, and waaaaaay better. It was damn near impossible to be impressed with the simple end of the fashionable tricks after seeing her riding her fixie as a unicycle, with no hands, with the handlebars as a seat, riding backwards at high speed... Did I mention that Ines is a badass?

There were highlights of Program 7 that went beyond masturbatory self-promotion by fashionable urban males playing in traffic and doing skateboardy stunts: "BELLE EPOCH," a compilation of found footage directed and edited by Robert Chynoweth shows Italian cyclist Giuliano Calore cycling up improbable alpine roads while playing musical instruments, riding without handlebars or brakes, and generally being wacky in a hard-core mountain cyclist way; and "Waffle Bike," a narrated, faux-European-mockumentary directed by the Neistat Brothers ( and Tom Sachs about a bike/waffle cart equipped with a refrigerator, Honda generator, shotguns, a machete, chicken cages, an obnoxious sound system... It is a deadpan riot. The diagrams rock! (The Neistat brothers were also the authors of one of my favorite previous BFF entries, Yogurt versus Gasoline, in which a cyclist in flip flops races against one of the world's fastest production motorcycles in New York City.)

The Bicycle Film Festival is a great time, as always, and the glimpses of bike culture around the world are excellent. To balance out the program, I really need to get together with a bunch of women outside of northern hemispheric cities and make some films that aren't all about how cool we look doing fixie tricks or racing in alley cats on multi-thousand dollar bikes, to help make the view more world-wide.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:32 PM

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Bicycle Film Festival in San Francisco This Week!!! I am so excited!!

poster for the Bicycle Film Festival 2008

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:03 PM

Sunday, September 23, 2007

  Bicycle Film Festival 2007 poster

7th Annual Bicycle Film Festival

You know I love bicycling, nearly as much as I love food, so it's not to surprising that I love Brendt Babur's Bicycle Film Festival. A bunch of fanatical amateur film makers crank out movies about their bike love, and that love is great to behold. Brendt has done a remarkable job of making the festival international - it now goes to 16 cities around the world - though American culture and views (including views of other cultures) dominates. His speech last year was especially moving - I love the idea that the worldwide bicycle movement(s) are really having a positive impact, and that we'll look back on these days and be happy to have taken part in something that has influenced the way so many people live and think about living.

Bicycle Film Festival 2007 ( came to San Francisco this week, and it was the happy scene it usually is - and the first autumn rain on Saturday morning didn't last long enough to ruin the small street festival associated with the event. Bicycles were valet parked all the way down the block on 16th between Mission and Capp streets, and there were throngs of people wearing messenger bags and carrying helmets everywhere you looked.

The film festival is changing over time, or perhaps my view of it is changing. There is an established bicycle culture here with many, many subcultures, and since we're the target audience and accept bike culture as fact, the films included for us are less general ('this is what biking is about') and more compartmentalized ('this is what this particular zip code is doing'). The festival is now full of films just about one particular racing subculture, or just about mountain biking, or just about one neighborhood... This is surely a natural evolution, but perhaps I still hunger for wide cultural images of what 'the movement' is like.

This year I watched two of the seven programs.

Program 5 consisted of 4 films.

Back to Back was a concise and cute short about a guy who designs bikes in his retirement, and has come up with a highly efficient, back-to-back tandem that his wife rides with him. (She's a trusting woman to handle riding backward!)

Revolutions Per Minute shows foldies being manufactured by Brompton in their facility in England.

Eat! Sleep? Bikes! was my favorite selection within this set: it's the story of a 4-person team relay riding the Furnace Creek 508 - a 508 mile, brutal endurance ride through Death Valley, featuring extreme temperatures and thousands of feet of climbing. This all-vegan team rode the entire event on fixed gear bikes!!! They deserve admiration, wonder, and perhaps some psychological counseling, but they did it - and came in ahead of dozens of teams who rode multi-geared bikes, all while raising money for Bonobos, who are 'the most vegan of primates.' Which is super-cool.

We Just Work Here is a long, artsy film showing the employees of Santa Cruz Bicycles drinking cheap beer and tearing down trails. There are color sequences, there are many black and white sequences with very deep, rich blacks, there are lots of... men. Juli Furtado works there, and they had a little clip of her, but it was a warm-up for the boy-heavy program 7, and a reminder that boys outnumber gals in the biking world in significant numbers. This film was lovingly made, but I understood the woman in the row behind me saying it was about 20 minutes too long.

After dinner at Ramblas (reviewed below) and a stop at a fine, locally owned bookstore, we watched Program 7, which is the messenger program. I haven't gone to the messenger program in the past, and I was expecting... something different. Something more serious, I think. The kids in the theater near me weren't messengers, but were young, drunk, high, and got really excited that they could read text on the screen out loud, which they did at every opportunity. The fanciest films in the series were about boys who travel internationally and bike recklessly - driving against highly busy traffic on one-way streets in New York, for example, between multiple lanes (i.e. some are between lanes 2 and 3, others between 3 and 4). That isn't my bike culture, and I was put off by it's maleness, whiteness, and by a racer (male but not white, wheee) admitting to having 30 or 40 bikes of his own - it seemed just another American-materialistic-boy fad, which was disappointing. But it is there, and I learned some things about it.

There were 14 entries and a live rap performance, so it was a big program. I think the highlights for me were:

Ski Boys, the film that set the tone for the program, featuring boys jumping off barns into sacks of leaves and old mattresses, or putting on winged costumes from which to try to fly while jumping their bike off a ramp into a pond. The audience went completely wild, demonstrating that the film was aligned perfectly with the audience.

On the Board: Freecall Messengers in San Francisco, which I liked mostly because I've seen those messengers around, and they kept biking past places I know very well.

Track Kaiju, about the "World Champion Fixie King" showing up to race in an alleycat in snowy, icy NYC. I caught a fleeting glimpse of female cyclists at the beginning of the alleycat! This film made me wonder if biking on a fixie would be a more sensible choice in snow and ice than a multi-gear bike, at least with respect to braking. To the extent breaking is possible when the road is wet and frozen.

Lucas Brunelle Worldwide Broadcast. This was the film that made me choose the messenger program; it turns out that it's also the film that made me flinch openly the most, being as sensitive as I am to the idea of falling in my current post-streetcar track-wreck-ulna-reconstruction world view. Racing in traffic; skitching in traffic; riding the wrong way in traffic; crashing; nearly being hit by cars; crashing hard on streetcar tracks... Ouch, ouch, ouch, [flinch] ouch. (Lucas Brunelle's other videos ( supply similar footage, plus mellower films of exploring the Big Dig before it opened to cars and biking on the frozen Charles River.) It was well filmed, but I suffered over it quite a bit.

This program made me think of my long-time cyclist friend (who is white and male) who disapproves of fixie-riders in general for their recklessness: that recklessness was the THEME of the program.

One of the scenes that sticks with me is of cyclists entering an intersection on an intersecting course with a turning car: the car slammed on its breaks just in time, and all the snow that had rested on its roof and hood hit the ground near where a cyclist had passed. That inspired hysterical joy in the stoned boy in front of me, but it only made me sigh with relief that no one got killed.

I would still love to ride a fixie in a velodrome, just to feel what that is like, and I still like the remarkable elegance and simplicity of fixies (also known as track bikes), but I'll stick to my own bike love, which is completely non-competitive and is about having a slow, easy-going relationship with the City I love.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)2:42 PM

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