When you hear someone say “filmed by bike,” you could interpret the phrase in a number of different ways. Taken at its most literal, the words seem to conjure images of someone on a bicycle holding a movie camera while riding down the street. In your mind, you might even hear the cyclist yell, “Cut!”
But Filmed By Bike is the name of a festival that has been supplying Portlanders with an annual dose of cycling cinema every April for over a decade. Now in its 12th year, the festival has grown to feature more films from more places around the globe.
“This year we’re showing 45 films from 14 countries, which is very exciting,” says Ayleen Crotty, Filmed by Bike festival director. She says that even though this is a film festival, you can expect a variety of activities beyond just screenings.
“This really is a festival. There will be filmmaker Q&As, a huge street party in the middle of Clinton Street and all sorts of other fanfare going on,” Crotty explains.
The Clinton Street Theater has been home to the festival since the first official Filmed By Bike screening began in 2003. Back then, the organizers were screening movies on VHS tapes. Not only that, but finding movies with themes related to cycling and cycling culture was an extremely tall order.
“There just weren’t bike movies out there. And now, they’re everywhere,” says Crotty. “People who are into bikes like to take that into their other interest realms. They like to create music about bikes, make artwork about bikes. If people like bikes, they like them in a lot of different ways. “
And that extends to filmmaking.
Currently, there are bike film festivals held in major cities all over the world, including London, Chicago, New York, Sydney and San Francisco. In Portland, the Bicycle Film Festival held screenings on March 15. That festival focused mainly on short films in two genres, urban and cinematic, but those two categories are only the tip of the iceberg.
“I’m really excited about our full-length feature film, which is entitled Ciclo and comes out of Mexico. It’s the story of the first known Mexicans to ride their bikes cross-continent, from Mexico City to Toronto,” says Crotty.
The Spanish language documentary was produced and directed by Andrea Martínez. It captures the experience of two brothers who completed the ride in May 1956 and features music from the award-winning composer Yann Tiersen. The brothers, Arturo and Gustavo Martínez, are the father and uncle of the filmmaker. Both men are now in their 70s.
“It’s really a lovely story and one that I think will really resonate with the Latino community,” says Crotty. She hopes this film will offer an opportunity for people to see the simple elegance and beauty of a Latino story outside the lens of a media culture that typically focuses on the challenges the Latino community faces.
“That’s what we see a lot of coming out [about] the Latino community, at least here in Portland, and those are important issues, but this is a chance to celebrate a piece of Mexican history,” Crotty explains.
The Filmed by Bike festival also focuses on local filmmakers. Portlander Mike Vogel’s work has been featured in the festival four years in a row.
“One year, I was also on the Jury, so I was helping to pick out the movies that are shown at the festival,” says Vogel from his downtown office. He said he’s proud of all of the films he’s submitted to Filmed By Bike, but one in particular stands out.
“I think my favorite one is about getting ‘Right Hooked.’ That’s sort of like when a car pulls up looking to the left and then sort of cuts you off to the right.”
Vogel describes the automobile/cyclist accident that is common for cities with large populations of cyclists sharing the road with cars and trucks.
“A lot of accidents happen that way and we did one [movie] where this woman has this fantasy altercation, kung-fu fight with a guy who is about to ‘right-hook’ her.”
Vogel bikes to work every day, and even before his kids were able to ride bikes themselves, he would ferry them on the back of an xtracycle. He says that in five years, he’s only commuted by car once, and that was because he had to run an errand during his lunch hour.
“It’s just part of my lifestyle and I don’t think of it as anything that’s kind of different or whatever — it’s the same way that if you drive a car, you don’t think of yourself like, ‘Hey, I’m a motorist.’ You just drive a car,” Vogel says.
Vogel says there is nothing more exciting for him than to have his films appreciated by cyclists who can connect with the themes.
“It’s so much fun to go into the movie theater and watch the whole program and then you see your movie up there with all the other ones and it feels very cool and exciting,” he says.
“When you make movies, you always want to share them with people and you want to show them to people and you always hope that you get the kind of reaction that you get at Filmed By Bike,” adds Vogel. “You’re with people who care about movies and who care about the things that you’re making the movies about, so it’s really just a fun, exciting time.”
You can hear more about the Filmed By Bike Film Festival on State of Wonder on Saturday, April 19 at noon on OPB Radio.