Portland can claim any number of magazine-bestowed honorifics that describe just how great the city is for bicycling—"Best Biking City," "Most Bike Friendly City," "Bike Capital, USA," etc. But for all the velo-love, there's one glaring hole in our rep: Throughout its seven years of existence, the Bicycle Film Festival has never come to Portland.
New York, Milan, Tokyo, Toronto, Chicago, and even Melbourne have all held the fest—but this will be the first year it will make a stop in Stumptown, bringing some of the most popular films from the fest's past, as well as some new offerings.
"That's the first question everyone asks," fest founder Brendt Barbur laughs from New York. "We've gotten a number of emails from Portland asking for us to come here, but no one's ever stepped up to help organize it."
This year, though, Barbur & Co. took a shot, bringing a weekend's worth of films and a handful of parties. In case you're thinking this is just another film fest, think again: This international event is A Big Deal.
The weekend is going to be a dizzying array of films and fun, so here's a rundown of what you should hit. (Barbur, though, recommends you buy a weekend pass and make a mini-vacation out of it.)
Thursday night, catch the opening night party at Holocene, featuring a "Cars or Bikes" debate, free cocktails from 7:30 to 8:30 pm, and DJ sets by Flosstradamus and DJ Beyonda. Friday is when the films kick off (all at Cinema 21), starting at 7 pm with a program of film shorts and one of the most buzzed about short documentaries, The Warriors, which captures a bike race that traced the path of the gangs from the classic '70s film. That's followed at 9 pm by Monkey Warfare, which won the Special Jury Award at the Toronto International Film Fest, premiered at the Bike Film Fest in New York last year, and is one of the few narrative films on the program.
Saturday is chock-full of films, kicking off at 1 pm with Ayamye, a documentary about the impact bicycles have on a rural village in Ghana, where the bike isn't a "middle-class luxury," as American libertarians like to say, but is, in fact, a vital, life-saving mode of transportation. That's followed by Klunkerz, a doc about the creation of mountain biking in the 1970s, and Bikecar, a surprisingly entertaining doc about a few snowboarders who build a bare-bones, pedal-powered car to travel 850 miles through Pacific Northwest mountains. (Mercury Fun Fact™! About 40 minutes in, a copy of the Mercury's "Pets in Uniform" issue from last year [Cover, Aug 30, 2006] shows up in one of the scenes.)
Saturday's 7 pm program is full of short films, some of which I've been able to catch. The best is Track Kaiju, which follows Tokyo fixie rider Shino in his effort to tackle New York's infamous Monster Track alleycat race—a day after the city is blanketed in snow. The low point is Night of the Living Bicycles, an animated short from Denmark about zombie bicycles. The art looks incredibly dated, and the story lost my interest about a minute in. Perhaps it was that after watching so many films that capture the exhilaration of bike fun (races, polo, etc.), such a Nick Park-knockoff doesn't have much hope of competing.
For Barbur, the fest is about capturing the spirit and energy of what he considers to be "the biggest youth movement in the world right now."
"The camera is the new guitar," he adds, "and these films are the new punk."
For what it's worth, after a few hours of screenings, the only thing I wanted to do was hop on my bike and pedal hard to every corner of the city. After a full weekend of these films, I may never leave the saddle again.
For more info and complete listings, see bicyclefilmfestival.com.