May 9, 2006--The little known fifth Bicycle Film Festival will open this Wednesday, May 10, escaping the photographers’ glare of major newspapers, and slip under the radar of mainstream culture. But it won’t for long, according to its founder, Brendt Barbur. “It’sgrowing so much,” he said in an interview with NYCycleNews. The festival is now in five American and four international cities, and last year’s attendance reached 7,000 people, a reflection of the festival’s subject matter which he said is “passionate and inspiring for people to change or affirm their lifestyles.”
The impact of rising oil prices is not the only influence that is slowly moving society’s focus from a car-based culture to one that encourages self-propelled, environmentally sound transportation. Just the other day after gas prices topped $3 a gallon, a woman came in to Bicycle Workshop in Tenafly, NJ, and bought $600 worth of clothing because she was going to try to rely solely on her bicycle for transportation for one week.
It’s also about the culture of cycling which drives Barbur, a previous actor and filmmaker who when he was about 12 years old, saw the film Breaking Away which may have changed his outlook forever. From that time on, he took up cycling, mostly BMX in his northern California home, and never stopped. After he moved to New York, while cycling on Third Ave. Barbur was doored and thrown into a Mass Transit bus. He suffered a fractured jaw, lower spinal cord injury, a dislocated shoulder, a sprained neck, and two torn meniscus.
Did he use the money he won after suing both the van driver and the MTA to start the film festival? He admitted he had, noting, “It’s weird to tell people about the money,” “But that negative experience ignited me. I had never before been into the politics of the bike,” he added. One of the things that struck him was the reaction people expressed when he told them he’d been in a bike accident. “They would respond almost like it was my fault because I was riding my bike in the city,” he said, and they would immediately ask him if he had been wearing a helmet.
But when he went surfing months later, and he scraped his arm, and told people he had been caught in the biggest wave of his life, got pounded and the surfboard snapped in his face, people said, “Oh, you surf? That’s so cool!”
Barbur, who has graduated from BMX to a single speed 1983-issue Bianchi, points to the difference between the ubiquitous placement of surf stores throughout New York—like Quiksilver in Times Square, one of the farthest places from surfing you could get, and the less than central placement of bike stores around the city as an example of how our culture treats the two sports. Although most young people in New York have never seen a beach, the surfing world celebrates youth culture and creativity, and that is what he intends to do with cycling. He points out that most of the coverage of his film festival is by fashion magazines, not cycling magazines, and that the festival’s sponsors are more cultural than cycling-oriented, such as Puma, Agnes B, American Apparel, and Red Bull.
With a birthday this past Saturday, May 7 almost coinciding with the opening day of the festival, May 10, Barbur has other stresses he reluctantly discusses, like the death of his mother from cancer about six months ago. Her death is a source of pain and strength at the same time.
“A lot of problems could be solved by bicycles,” he said. “Environmental, social, health, economic.” But he hopes that cycling will move even beyond solving problems, and become the thing that people do because it celebrates creativity.
The movies being shown do just that. B.I.K.E., directed by Jacob Septimus and Anthony Howard, the first film to be shown in the series on Thursday night, describes urban bike gangs, including one that rides around on retrofitted tall bikes, and uses them for regular jousting matches. “Building your own bike is seen as a lot more diversive than building your own car,” Barbur noted. B.I.K.E. also follows a Williamsburg-based women’s gang that sports matching t-shirts and goes to brunch together after a ride. On Friday, M.A.S.H. tells the story of fixed gear cyclists in San Francisco, and on Saturday, Peter Sutherland’s Pedal follows bike messengers through the streets of several American cities.
The real sleeper films will be on Sunday, said Barbur, when the festival features old films and videos that are being brought down to New York by Torontonian Martin Heath, and include Racing to Nowhere, and a 1965 film of the Tour de France.
On Saturday the festival will be accompanied by a street fair featuring track events, such as skids. For more info on the street fair go to trackstar.com. Oh and one more thing—tickets sell out quickly, so buy yours online well before the event.