Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) on September 8th, 2007 at 1:54 pm
What do you get when you cross the world’s biggest bike film festival with America’s best biking city? You’d think it would be a winning combination, but organizers of the Bicycle Film Festival – which opened at Cinema 21 last night — are scratching their heads over the low turnout.
Despite an impressive line-up of award-winning films, ticket sales thus far are far below expectations and pale in comparison to other cities — including Paris, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York — where the festival has stopped.
At last night’s screening, movie-goers were treated to some fantastic films (from what I heard, the winner of the night was a film named Monkey Warfare), however it seems the fest will need more than great movies to call Portland a success; the low turnout means organizers stand to lose thousands of dollars unless remaining screenings sell out.
The question remains: Why, in such a bike-crazy town are people not flocking to this festival?
I spent about an hour last night talking about it with the festival’s founder Brendt Barbur.
Barbur, who was born in Portland, knows about our bikey reputation but he’s not quite sure what to make of the low turnout, “We even announced $1 beers right across the street, and not one person went over there.”
But Barbur and his team have done far more than just offer cheap beer. They’ve tried to spread the word and create buzz in Portland, but so far it hasn’t had the same effect as their efforts in other cities where he described mob scenes at the screenings, “In L.A. we had people spilling out into the street. It was huge.”
Confident in his event, Barbur’s not complaining or looking for scapegoats. He’s intrigued by the situation and wonders if his festival has exposed a chink in Portland’s bikey armor (do we not care about bike culture from other cities?), or if other factors were involved.
Far from just a film festival, Barbur sees his event as part of a cultural movement, with bicycles and sustainable transportation at its core. He wants the festival to spark excitement, creative inspiration, and activism.
Buzz about the low turnout is already being discussed on the Shift email list. Southeast Portland resident and cyclist Curt Dewees thinks it has something to do with Portlander’s active lifestyles, “We are a city of participants, not spectators. We would rather do something active, rather than sit and watch other people do something active.”
Another email response said it might just be a case of film fest fatigue; “We just had our own bicycle film festival (Filmed by Bike) which may have absorbed all the available bicycle film festival interest.” In addition, Hansen says, we also have had a series of RevPhil’s Bike Porn screenings, “so whereas some cities never get a Bicycle Film Festival, and it’s novel, in Portland it’s a harder sell.”
If you’re sold (I would be if I was in town!), there are still lots of great films to see, and a couple big parties to attend. Get all the details at BicycleFilmFestival.com.