Starting Wednesday, the Bicycle Film Fest hits Chicago for four days of parties, races, scavenger hunts, and films galore. It’s a huge event in New York, Paris, Tokyo, and other cities, but in Chicago it hasn’t quite caught on. Coda talked to founder Brendt Barbur, who lives in Manhattan, about registering higher on the city’s culture meter this time around.
Barbur: Are you a biker?
Coda: Yes. I ride to and from work everyday, but not on anything fancy, just a hybrid Trek. Basic.
Coda: What do you ride?
Barbur: I have bikes in different cities; I spent six months out of the year traveling. Today I have a bike that I got handbuilt in Italy. We were [at a bike shop] in the countryside outside of Milan, and they were excited about the bicycle film fest.
Coda: In Chicago, there is certainly a bicycling community. Have you observed that in Paris, Tokyo, and elsewhere that you take the fest?
Barbur: After all of my travels, I can honestly say that the bike movement is the biggest youth cultural movement in world. You have YouTube and video games, but you have people actively involved-it’s a lifestyle. Twenty thousand people came to our art show in Paris over a two-month period. People always seem surprised to hear that, especially considering the resources we have as a festival. But we are built by the bicycle culture, by-more than anything-people who are daily riders. These people are creative and adventurous. If you bike in a community now, you are a creative.
Coda: Why do you think it’s the creative class that has picked up this mantle? Doesn’t everybody value fast, cheap transportation?
Barbur: I went to high school in California, and we had a class on drivers ed. No one ever talked about biking that I remember. So, to me, it’s obvious. You look outside, you don’t see a bike thing. People embrace it who have different lifestyles. And the other reason, I think, is that bike-riding is mostly done by yourself. But you feel empowered doing it; you feel strong. Cyclists are galvanized, and when people are galvanized, they come together.
Coda: In New York, the film fest attracts a crowd-plus celebs like Penelope Cruz. I find that kind of funny, since it’s not considered a biking town.
Barbur: Out of all of our cities [the fest visits 16 cities, seven of which are in the US and Canada], we have the least amount of support from city government and city at large. But by sheer numbers, New York has a huge bike culture.
Coda: So does Chicago. But the fest was a kind of underground thing last year.
Barbur: Yeah, I know. We’re hoping the fest catches on more this year than last. [This year, the fest had a local team, headed by a messenger named Andrew Yeoman, who is helping schedule events and rally support.]
Coda: What should people not miss at the fest?
Barbur: Monkey Warfare (Friday night, 7 p.m., at Stan Mansion, 2408 N. Kedzie). In seven years, it is the biggest premiere that we’ve done. It was a jury prizewinner in Toronto. It’s well written, well crafted. There’s also Ayamye, by Eric Matthies, who lives in L.A. but who I think is from Chicago. But typically the program that’s most popular is the urban bike culture, messenger screening. That and the parties.
Photography: Tod Seelie/Courtesy of the Bicycle Film Fest