Bicycle Film Festival Review: The Short Films – Pt 1

Bicycle Film FestivalYesterday I reviewed the BFF as a show, so now I’d like to review the 17 short films that I saw in Program 3. Short films are one of the things I like most about film festivals, as you rarely get to see them otherwise and they tend to pack a lot of variety of subjects, exploring the whole gamut of the topic.

Overall, the ones shown at BFF were entertaining and interesting, and in various cases, great conversation starters (for better or for worse).

I’m breaking the reviews up into two posts for easy reading; here are the first eight of the bunch.

Urban Bike Shorts

On Time – From 1987 we get this undergrad student film about Jimmy, an unlucky bike messenger in NYC trying to deliver a package on time. Jimmy runs into every calamity you can imagine, ending up carrying his bike by the middle of the short film, only to realize his luck right at the end when the package he had to deliver at 2 PM sharp turns out to be a bomb that blows up the recipient. The film is exactly what you would expect out of a film school project, but that also gives it a kind of rough charm. It’s also interesting to see 1980s New York via this bike messenger’s ride through the city. It also confirms that bike messengers have always ridden like asses (see Empire).

One Less Horse – This is a 3-minute video of two polo teams, one on horses and one on fixies, getting ready to throw down in a game. (Apparently bike polo is a popular sport, as it shows up on a couple more of the films.) There is no real narrative to this film except the preparation of the teams and then them throwing down in a game, but it is well photographed and interesting in its parallels between the two kinds of steeds. At three minutes it is about as long as it needs to be, which is great.

Safari London – A 4-minute, time-lapsed, atmospheric film of a riders evening through the streets of London set to a nice techno-beats soundtrack. Also well shot and edited; the fast-forwarded streets of London provide beautiful light shows that frame the simple lines of the bike rider crossing the city.

An Apology – The Neistat Brothers submitted a film last year about how easy it is to steal a bike in NYC. They got a morning show invitation out of that, and they decided to play a prank where one of them filled his chest pocket with packs of ketchup which he exploded as he leaned over the portable circular saw his brother was using on the demonstration. The TV reporter obviously freaked out, even more when she found out it was a joke. This film was their apology. Funny, but really, that’s all it was.

Empire – The blurb reads “Empire is a film about having fun riding your bike in the city.” To which I would add “while being a complete asshole and endangering lives all around.” Though Empire is not online, you can see a sample of the kind of “fun riding” we’re talking about in another video from the same group on YouTube, just for reference. I cannot begin to express my disgust with this film, not because it wasn’t nicely shot (it was ok), not because I dislike fixie riders doing tricks (I don’t mind the tricks themselves) but because I dislike with a passion fixie (or any) riders doing tricks while in the middle of traffic, opening themselves to an accident or worse, possibly causing one in which other people get hurt. Fixie tricks are neat (see Paris Vision and Kant), very neat actually, when they are done in a separate area away from traffic or bystanders. Not content with pulling tricks while riding along fast-moving traffic on the streets of Manhattan, these riders also pull off mind-bogglingly stupid moves weaving in between cars and pedestrians. The celebration of this kind of riding revolted me, though not as much as the enthusiastic reception it received from the crowd. As I said in my previous post, I was clearly in the minority.

Barend Jam – Pure BMX fun in the woods somewhere in the UK. The photography is elementary but it captures the fantastic jumps and twists of these BMX riders perfectly, including great shots of rider after rider going up and down a series of ramps, looking like a choreographed dance on wheels. There are awesome tricks and ouch-worthy wipeouts in these three minutes of fun in the dirt. More of a very short doc-style piece than a narrative, but a nice window into competitive (and fun) BMX riding.

Paris Vision – It’s hard to make Paris look bad on film, but the photography on this short didn’t take that for granted and showed, through the association with the fixie riders featured, a new side of the City of Light. The riders are followed through the winding streets of Paris, from Montmartre to the Île de la Cité, shown from various angles, sometimes as independent subjects, others as part of the panoply of the city. Something I keenly noticed, especially after Empire, was that when they showed the riders pulling tricks it was always either in a set-up shot (slow-mo across the shadow of Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower), in a separate area or in an empty street with no cars or pedestrians in sight. Whenever they are shown riding alongside traffic, they just ride, normally, safely. It made the scenes with the tricks that more powerful because you could just concentrate on the skill and form of the rider and bike (not to mention the shots were just gorgeous). This was certainly on my Top 3 of the festival shorts.

Kant – More fixie riders (sensing a theme here?), this time in Yokohama, Japan. Much like the other fixie films, it involves groups of fixie riders pulling tricks, though again like in Paris Vision, these are shown doing so in separated areas (with a couple of exceptions), which makes it all about the trick itself. Fairly cool are the very simple yet effective parallel moving shots of the bikes, achieved by cameramen on skateboards. Japan is *the* epicenter of the whole idea of subcultures, and they do fixie hipster stylishly. Check out the trailer and another video from the same crew on Vimeo.

Tomorrow I’ll finish with the last seven short films.

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