Monday, June 8, 2009

Bicycle Film Festival, Memphis

Life Cycles: Bike Film Festival celebrates role of cycling culture in city

By Anthony Siracusa

Monday, June 8, 2009

In nearly 40 cities across four continents over the next three months, bicycle lovers will watch a slew of independent films featuring bikes used in familiar and unfamiliar ways.

The movies are a part of the Bicycle Film Festival, an international celebration of bicycle culture now in its ninth year. The last weekend in May, Memphis became the first city to host the 2009 Bicycle Film Fest, and the only Southern city scheduled to host the three days of films and festivities.

"I had a dream that people would really feel a presence over the weekend of cyclists," said local organizer Alona Lerman. "One of the most important parts of the festival was the bike valet, because you had 100 bicycles locked up. The statement that all those bikes made was a big part of our message."

Lerman brought the film festival to Memphis as a fun way of promoting the "bicycle as a recognized and accepted form of transportation."

The Brooks Museum of Art acted as the hub for the events, which featured two evenings packed with more than two dozen film screenings, a bicycle block party in Overton Park and a rock show at Murphy's featuring local acts The Warble and the River City Tanlines.

"The Bicycle Film Festival was a celebration of the bicycle culture around the world," said Kyle Wagenschutz, director of Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop. "It was a celebration of what the bicycle can do as far as creating community and changing people's lives. It showed us how other cities are using bicycles, which for Memphis -- a city on the precipice of many (bike-friendly) changes -- was encouragement. It was sort of a fire-starter."

For many, the Bicycle Film Fest made concrete the potential of the bicycle. Used for laughs, for competition, for art's sake and for transportation, the bicycle was employed in film after film, country after country, in ways that pointed to the diversity within bicycle culture. As a result, the film festival struck a chord within a variety of people. The event's Web site boasts, "we are into all styles of bikes and biking. . . . What better way to celebrate these lifestyles than through art, film, music and performance?"

Because Memphis' bicycle culture continues to expand its boundaries, growing in popularity especially among young people, the city appeared attractive for festival organizers.

Memphis was also an apt setting for the festival according to co-organizer Corey Kennedy. "We do have a very diverse bicycling culture here. Cycling, in general, crosses many lines. It doesn't matter (what your occupation), if you ride a bicycle, there is a common bond. We had so many people from different walks of life and different states (at the festival). The bicycle is kind of a barrier breaker."

By all accounts, the film festival was a grand slam, and one organizers plan to duplicate and grow next year. Amidst the flowers showing off their beautiful colors in Overton Park, Memphis' bicycle culture appeared also to be in full bloom.

Memphian Anthony Siracusa is a graduate of Rhodes College and founder of Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop. He has been awarded a fellowship from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation to travel for a year to study bicycle communities on four continents. Contact him through


Anonymous said...

This is not really related, but I was thinking about the conversation that was had around the ever burning toilet paper roll...

Making bicycles cheaper won't make more people ride bikes, America has the most bikes per capita but that doesn't mean we ride the most. I think the cost of bicycles is not the main factor. People drop thousands of dollars to buy a hybrid to "save the planet" they overlook the bicycle all together because it's not marketed at the same rate as cars are.

Those were some random thoughts bouncing around in my head on the ride to work this morning...

Anthony Siracusa said...

I think Kermit is right about this. The critical factor for increasing ridership is not a lack of affordable bicycle materials.

I do think, however, well-tuned bicycles are more of a precious commodity than the Walmart junkers. As a result, a well-tuned bicycle does usually cost more than an un-tuned, ill-fitting, two-wheeled nightmare.

That being said, many people everyday (especially here in our fair city) ride such bikes.

The biggest inhibition, in my opinion (seconded by Jeff Mapes in his interview with Carol Colletta []), is a perceived and often very real lack of safety in the roadways.

But as Kevin Costner demonstrated in the 1989 runaway hit, "Field of Dreams," if you build it, they will come.

Cyclists need better protection in the roadways from motor vehicles before a significant increase in mode share will occur. Again, as with affodable bicycles, infrastructure is not the sole factor involved but I would contend that in our present situation, it is the most important factor.

Bicycle availability and affordability is thus less of a factor in increasing miles traveled by bicycle in America than a perceived lack of safety resulting from insignificant bicycle infrastructure.

There is a causal effect--not a correlative effect--between Copenhagen's construction of dozens and dozens of seperated bicycle tracks each year and its 36% mode share for bicycles.