An Online Film Festival That’s All About Cycling

When Brendt Barbur was struck by a bus while cycling in Manhattan in the year 2000, bike culture was not as loud as it is today. People wanted to blame him for the violent collision, and he wondered why a pastime so joyous in much of the world and for many children was viewed so negatively in the city he’d moved to. To “remind” the public of what biking could be, Barbur drew on the medium of cinema, organizing the Bicycle Film Festival with the help of Anthology Film Archives and Jonas Mekas, denizen of the avant-garde

Starting in December and through February 29, more than 40 shorts and features are streaming online, telling bicycle-related narratives that span South Korea to Havana, from e-bike food delivery to rural gravel races. Twenty-four years since its first iteration, the festival has traveled to 100 cities and attracted an audience of over a million. 

“One thing that has never changed at Bicycle Film Festival is that the story is the most important element. What can make people feel something?” Barbur told Hyperallergic.

“In a time of stratification, when it’s not easy to live in New York City and artists are working two or three jobs, the bicycle movement is one of the most positive things I’ve seen,” he added. 

Activists and artists tend to go together, he said, and Mekas isn’t the only name he dropped. Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch is a Bicycle Film Festival fan, as is artist Kiki Smith, a frequent East Village bike lane user who contributed a print to Joyride, a gallery show that was presented in conjunction with the festival’s 14th edition.

Many artists speak about the importance of constraints, both organic and devised, in their practice — “the enemy of art is the absence of limitations” is a classic workshop adage. By making bicycles the central node around which anything can form, Bicycle Film Festival allows sophisticated narratives to break through. The festival frequently includes films from Iran, where creative output is subject to intense censorship and repression; this year’s lineup includes The Winner (2021), directed by Ali Keyvan.

“It took courage for our teams in those places to show those films,” Barbur said. “And for the people that made them.”

Barbur adds that all kinds of audiences tune in to Bicycle Film Festival, especially since their virtual turn and a greater social media push during the COVID-19 pandemic. The varied program includes films like 9th Street (2023), a documentary on Austin’s BMX trails, and Crit Dreams, a chronicle of pros training for the 2023 American Criterium Cup. Several of this year’s picks focus on differently abled riders, like Able (2023), a portrait of a pioneering paracyclist, and Finish (2024), in which a young man with autism and Tourette’s enters a grueling race. Full-access passes for the virtual Bicycle Film Festival are available on a sliding scale from $33 to $75.

The next in-person event will take place in Mexico City on March 15 and 16, with group rides and dance parties scheduled in between screenings. Valet bicycle parking will be provided, of course.

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