Films For Us
by Adam Eisenberg
It's seventeen degrees out and I can barely feel my feet through the wind that cuts across the Manhattan Bridge. I'm on my way to a bicycle swap meet at the Chelsea Piers, but I'd rather be in bed, or hanging out with my dog and a cup of hot tea. I'm hoping to find a good deal on rear track wheel for my spring fixed gear project, but that's not the reason I've left the dry steam heat of my apartment. What, or who, I'm really looking for is Brendt Barbur, the director of the Bicycle Film Festival. I'm hoping to catch up with him and get the details on what will be the fifth year of the world's only showcase of bicycle-themed movies.
I met Brendt years ago, back before he was hit by a bus on his Bianchi and subsequently got the idea for the festival. Some people might have stopped riding after an accident like that, but Brendt wanted to create something positive out of the experience, and the BFF was born. When I spoke to him last week, he indicated that the swapmeet would be a good place to talk about the upcoming festival and meet some of people who are involved, including a few of the filmmakers. That's great, since I'm hoping to find out what will be this year's big attraction. I want to know what, if anything, can top 2004's 'Warriors: A Bike Race' -- a film that not only packed every seat, but every inch up to the screen and still left people outside in the spring air.
When I get to the swap meet it's still early, and my eagerness to talk with Brendt has put me way ahead of schedule. I look down at my watch and realize it's not even 10.00 yet and the vendors are just setting up. I poke my head around at a few tables and try to hunt down that rear wheel. The swapmeet offerings are thin, and it seems that many of the growing crowd are cycle messengers, here for the scheduled Monster Track Alleycat race rather than the used bike parts. I ask one of the vendors if the bearings in his wheelset are sealed. He chides me through a toothless grin. Sealed bearing hubs are a relatively new commodity. The vintage wheels I have just asked him about have loose balls. D'oh!
I walk away and look across the pier, wishing that it was just ten degrees warmer or that the wind would stop. I turn to see a very dapper man dressed in tweed, sporting a pair of cowboy boots and a handlebar moustache. This is Andy White, a messenger from Melbourne, who is here selling his own line of T-shirts. Andy knows Brendt and was involved when the festival branched out to San Francisco last year, the first city time it had played at a venue outside of New York. (This year, it will also visit Tokyo, London and Los Angeles.) Andy is a good example of the kind of crossover between bikes and art embodied by the festival. He's worked all over the world as a courier, but also doubles as a photographer and a designer. I plunk down twenty bucks and take home my only souvenir of the day, a yellow and pink shirt with a sexy graphic of a naked lady and the words, I Love My Track Bike silkscreened beneath. He seems chilly, like everybody else, but excited about the race which he tells me will be filmed by Lucas Brunelle.
Ahh, now we're talking. Hopefully Brunelle is one of the filmmakers Brendt mentioned. I'm a big fan of his work and have spent quite a bit of down time at my job watching the films on his website. His projects, like last year's 'Drag Race New York City', are another reason the festival creates standing room-only frenzy. Outside of video games, and that dream you have where you're falling but then suddenly wake up, there are few visual experiences that can compete with the footage taken from Brunelle's helmetcam rig.
Around eleven, I finally spot Brendt and make my way through the now-heavy crowd to say hello. He's still the way I remember him: talkative, full of wiry energy and completely overextended. He says he's coming down with a bad cold, but that hasn't stopped him from showing up to hand out flyers, talk to me and direct a movie. Yep, it turns out the director of the festival is working on a project of his own about visual artists inspired by bicycles.
When I ask Brendt about this year's schedule, he's tight-lipped. This isn't surprising. Many of the movies he screens are made specifically for the festival, never to be seen elsewhere. That's what generates the buzz, he says. Brendt never does confide a final lineup, but he does let on that there will be a new Brunelle flick, along with a feature-length BMX documentary called 'Joe Kid On A Stingray: A History of BMX' and a messenger greatest hits series, including the 80s classic 'On Time', which has played before at the BFF. He also tells me that this year's bike parade, which is always memorable for the diversity of rides and the antics of the participants, will be bigger than last year's and hosted by a celebrity guest.
I struggle to keep up with Brendt as he negotiates the blur of vintage wool jerseys, customized messenger bags and row after row of the most beautiful track bikes I have ever seen. This is what the film festival in May will be like -- a community of people, from as many backgrounds as there are languages, unified through bicycles.
I'll probably hit up at least four or five other film festivals this year, but the BFF is the only one where the people in attendence are celebrated as much as the films. If you ride a bike you are a celebrity; you are Lucas Brunelle racing down the streets on your morning commute. A visit here in the winter cold is a useful reminder of what I'm looking forward to; not only the warmth of spring, but the other days like this, when people will come out for the bikes.