Bicycle Film Festival

By Oli Pritchard August 20, 2014

Bicycle Film FestivalOli Pritchard turns the spotlight on the festival that spins reels of film out of wheels of steel. The Bicycle Film Festival is taking place in the city from September 4 to 7.

There’s a velocipede revolution in Bogota right now; a velorution, a motherfucking sea-change in how the city sees bicycles. Bursting out of the underground and threatening to hit the mainstream like a slug of pure heroin in the arms of an 80 year-old pensioner, this will jolt the sometimes staid Bogota and sting it into action.

The paradigms are being altered like a toddler doing LSD while watching the Night Garden

This isn’t a heart attack, grandfather, this is a new way, a new ride. This is a love affair, bright and new and optimistic, full of lust and desire and change. What you thought about bicycles will be ripped up and thrown away; chewed and spat out. The paradigms are being altered like a toddler doing LSD while watching the Night Garden.

We’re going to bring you the best and most unique from this velorution over the coming editions, and we start with an extra special version of TwoWheelsGood. I went and had a chat with my BFF. Not my Best Friend Forever (which is a bicycle)…but the Bicycle Film Festival.

Bicycle Film Festival

The Bicycle Film Festival was founded in New York by a man called Brendt Barbur, a visionary with a dream: since he loved riding bikes and making films, why not bring them together? He did just that and the BFF was born. Since then, it’s mushroomed into a busy schedule taking in 28 cities across the continents and involving people from all around the world.

I’ve attended in London and Tokyo, but this will be my first here in Bogota. I’m keen to see how it will go down in this city of cyclists, especially at the moment. The BFF seems a perfect fit for Bogota: it’s underground and bohemian, like so much of this fine city; classy and stylish like a cachaco on parade; all about bicycles, like the teeming streets of the ciclovía.

The BFF has been interesting in a different way every time I’ve experienced it, with a common thread underpinning each unique experience: it always shows me something new. Something I didn’t have any idea about before. Altruistic projects exporting old bikes to Africa to help people cross previously impassable distances. A pair of brothers highlighting how easy it is to steal bikes in New York. The bike party scene in the Caribbean. Love stories expressed through the medium of cycling. This is not style over substance, but a real expression of joy through cycling.

The BFF has been interesting in a different way every time I’ve experienced it

Which is what cycling really is, when you come down to it. Joy. Sheer, exhilarating, unbridled, free joy. Speed strength symbiosis. That glint in an old lady’s eye when she tells me she beat her personal best to get into town. That smile on a kid’s face as they hammer down a hill in the park. The indescribable ecstasy of moving through such a simple yet elegant means. This is what the BFF celebrates, and it celebrates it very well indeed!

It’s bicycles and films, of course, but I see the BFF as more than that: it’s also a sign of how far Bogota is progressing as a cycling city. It shows that we are ready to take the velorution overground; to start making this into a city of cyclists. It shows that bicycles are absolutely, indisputably cool. Keep your Ferraris and your Beemers in the Zona Rosa. This is about Bogota, about creativity and independent thought.

Organiser Catalina Velásquez Velandia took some time out from her busy schedule to sit down with us and spin the wheels about her exciting new project, why she brought it to Bogota and what’s on offer.

Hi Catalina, good to see you! What’s the BFF all about, then?
It’s a celebration of bicycles, through film, obviously, but also music and art as well. We’re not sure exactly how the art will manifest itself, but the films are looking good!

So Catalina, what can we expect when the BFF arrives in town?
There’s a lot! First of all, we have seven screenings at the Planetarium, over three days. Friday we have a selection of short films as well as Clean Spirit, our feature film. Saturday focuses on urban cycling and bicycle stories. Finally, we finish on Sunday by repeating the shorts.

There’s going to be a couple of cool parties too, a big one on the Saturday at Cine Tonala next to Parque Nacional (Carrera 6#35-37). We’ll have a great after party with DJs spinning some funky tunes and a visual mapping performance from Fractalia. We’re also hoping to bring in some graffiti artists to help decorate the space.

Then of course we have the big opening party. That’s going to be great. Because it’s our first time running the festival here in Bogota, Brendt Barbur, the founder, might be coming to see how it goes. Intrepid cycle explorer and documentary maker Lucas Brunelle may join him. He recently did the Darien Gap on bicycle and we’ll have some of that footage at the opening party.

Darien’s pretty hardcore…
Yeah, I was worried about him, for sure. He went off-radar and I was starting to drum my fingers and get nervous! I was ringing the park entrances, trying to get any sort of information. Then he called me from Medellin, so that put me at ease. That’s the sort of story we have with this festival, adventure and exploration…and you never know what’s coming next!

What are you looking forward to on the schedule?
Well, Lucas Brunelle’s footage from Darien for sure, and I’m also looking forward to the feature film ‘Clean Spirit’. It’s showing a positive side of cycling, especially road racing. After the doping mess and the Armstrong affair, I think a lot of people felt disillusioned. So it’s good to see the new generation making people believe that cycling can be honest again. The Tour de France is so hard but they are positive and so excited to show that it’s possible without the drugs. Hopefully we can all believe again.

Why Bogota now?
It’s the right time for Bogota. Absolutely. Bikes have very recently become a key part of the city. We have activities that not only we, but the world, know about: ciclovía; dozens of kilometres of bike lanes. These are pioneering things and so I think we can call Bogota a cycle city. The local government has also been encouraging less dependency on cars with transport initiatives and restrictions on motor vehicles.

But not just government, also citizen’s movements. It’s about pushing the government for more and making bicycles a part of the city that won’t go away. They can’t ignore us, and we see the BFF as a part of that movement, another point to encourage cycles and to push us into the mainstream.

How do you see the Bogota, or even Colombian, cycling culture?
There are just so many different styles here! There’s BMX kids all over the city, a strongly supported mountain biking scene, especially just outside Bogota, road cyclists, many casual and not-so-casual commuters, people who work on bicycles and recently fixed wheel bicycles have become a thing!

Part of our aim with the BFF is to bring these people together and encourage better links between them. We’re trying to look for the leaders, and we feel that the BFF represents something for everyone.

Cycling as a sport has always been big in our affections as Colombians, because of course we have heroes from the past such as Lucho…and now a new wave of heroes!

It’s encouraging to see people taking cycling seriously. It’s something we have a chance of winning, of doing something big. We see people like Super Nairo [Quintana, the Giro d’Italia winner] and Rigo [berto Uran, second in the same race]; they don’t come from money. They are positive role models for kids, they show that you really can achieve great things, no matter your background.

Then there’s Marianita [Pajón, BMX queen] with her Olympic gold medal. How cool is that for young children to see?

What will make the BFF Bogota different to other cities?
Of course, Colombians know how to party, so that’ll be a big difference! Seriously though, we’ll be having things like a ciclovía ride on the Sunday morning, that’s really unique to here. Also, we’re going to try to involve various local groups, although we haven’t confirmed that yet. And really, although some things like the alleycats, semi-legal races using the fully traffic-choked roads as a racetrack are foreign to start with, we’ll be giving them some classic Colombian flavour.

For example, forcing people to pre-register? So Colombian, this bureaucracy…
Hahaha, yes! To be honest though, it’s about safety. We had around 300 riders for the last one, which was really chaotic! We can’t be sure that everyone knows how to ride properly and we don’t want anyone getting hurt here.

Are there any Colombian films?
Sadly not! But there will be some footage from Lucas Brunelle, both his Darien adventure and the alleycat he raced here in March. Having said that, it’s a really global schedule: films from Ghana, Egypt, Cuba…not to mention the States and Europe as well. I see cycling as a global thing; it brings together very different people, but ones that have a very important thing in common: bicycles. For that reason, I think if you love bicycles you want to know what’s going on, not just here, but all around the world.

OK, you have me hooked, but why should Joe Public come to the BFF?
Well, as I said, if you like bikes you want to know what’s happening, and I believe that this festival offers a fantastic opportunity for that. Also, it can show you what’s possible and hopefully inspire some new bike projects and some new films for our schedule next year!

Really, though, it’s about joining the party. Many people have a distant view of cycling, something they’d like to do one day or are thinking about, or maybe it’s something they remember from youth. The more cyclists you meet, the more you can learn, the more people you can get in touch with. It’s about exploring this rich world of cycling, not just locally, but critically, around the world.

Let me tell you a story: when I started cycling again, I was very nervous. But a friend adopted me, rode with me, showed me how to stay safe, gave me tips. That was a big thing to me then, and I’d like to think I can somehow help people in a similar way with this festival.

Thanks Catalina, and what a good note to end on. Good luck and see you at the opening party!