As Bike Culture Changes, So Does The Bicycle Film Festival – Interview with Brendt Barbur

When Brendt Barbur was doored and subsequently hit by bus while riding his bike in 2000, urban cycling was somewhat of a subculture. Messengers and artsy urbanites riding track bikes were the bold ones––willing to eschew the subway for bike lane-less roads. But a lot has changed in the past decade or so. With nearly 300 miles of bike lanes in the five boroughs and the impending arrival of the Citibike share program, commuting by bike is no longer segregated to an adventurous subculture. In fact, since Barbur began the Bicycle Film Festival in 2001, New York City commuter cycling has risen tremendously––by 262% between 2000 and 2010. The Bicycle Film Festival kicks off this weekend, June 28 through July 1, 2012, for its 11th year. I chatted with Brendt Barbur about the films in this weekend’s festival.

What’s the history of the Bicycle Film Festival?

I was hit by a bus riding while riding my bike here in New York City. Obviously it wasn’t the most fun experience but it gave me time to reflect. I wanted to create something positive out of that experience. And as I brought up the BFF it grew organically with help from these downtown creative arts people, including Jonas Mekas and the folks at Anthology Film Archive. It was a big honor to have him give us his blessing. To our surprise the first year we had sold out shows. We couldn’t believe it.

What has changed throughout the years?

We’ve gone all over the world. There have been changes in the bike culture for sure. Back then there were fewer people who rode bikes and people who rode often times you either knew them or knew their face. You probably knew every person on a track bike or fixed gear. That’s changed. The type of person who rode then was more adventurous. Creativity was a part of their lives. Folks today––well, biking has become more mainstream, which is really exciting, really exciting. It makes a big difference. But in NYC the BFF still hasn’t become mainstream. In 2009 we had 25,000 people attending. That’s a lot of people for an event that’s not a household name in NYC.

How many cities have you been in?

We’ve gone to over 50 unique cities throughout the years. This year we’re over 30, including Moscow, Istanbul, Hong Kong and Buenos Aires for the first time. I would love to go to Africa and the Middle East. We have fans and emails from all over the world. People love bikes.

Why bikes?

It’s the best way to get around. Maybe it’s a little bit that I’m hyperactive. I rarely ever ever wait for the subway. I can be a person that can be still but I’m usually walking from one end of the platform to the other. Someone was asking me about environmentalism. I’m not an environmentalist. I just ride because it’s the best way to get around and its fun. Been doing it all my life.

Tell me about the films this weekend?

We make the program unique to each city and in NYC we have 13 programs. It’s a wide selection I think anyone would enjoy going. Friday night is particularly interesting for the average person, even for those who don’t ride a bike.

Line of Sight is the headliner of the festival––it’s 10 years of urban racing footage from Lucas Brunelle. It’s controversial under the new climate of bike culture. We just got an email from someone telling us not to play it because we’re destroying cyclists’ reputation. A lot of the BFF movies in the past were subcultural. Now the stories are evolving and becoming more human.

Georgena Terry has been building frames for women for so long. Women had to ride men’s bikes till she came along.

There’s another movie directed by Jason Giampietro called Candy Rides starring Jason Grisell and Mindy Ryu. It’s a local film, also shot by Sean “Prince” Williams who’s an amazing cinematographer. It’s pretty evident in this film.


There are a lot of other films without trailers. There’s Sister Session. It’s about a whole woman crew making a film about these women who go to Simple Session in Tallinn, Estonia. It’s like the X-Games and is run by two brothers who also run the BFF in Estonia. It was the first time women competed at an event this big. The level is not the same as the men but it’s totally inspiring how great these women are. The short program very strong. There’s a movie called Boy by Jason Chadwick. The main actor is Timothy Spall. He was in Secrets and Lies and Naked and Harry Potter. He’s a great actor. Cycle of Betrayal is about Shay Elliot who was the first Irish pro cyclist. It’s a tragedy and true story. He almost won many times. It’s a pretty intense film about a man with strong character and a lot of intensity who was a great hero to Ireland. It’s a story that people do not want told.

There’s so many awesome movies. Really. People should just buy a pass.

You can buy your tickets here.