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Impressive films, depressing turnout at Bicycle Film Fest

Posted by on September 8th, 2007 at 1:54 pm

Bicycle Film Festival opening night-2.JPG

Outside Cinema 21 last night.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus)

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.

Bicycle Film Festival opening night-3.JPG

Bicycle Film Festival
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.”

Bicycle Film Festival opening night.JPG

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.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Cecil
Guest

Other possible reasons:

1. Many folks who might have attended were busy packing for Cycle Oregon

2. Location Location Location – I\’d be willing to bet they\’d have had twice as many, if not more, folks attending if the films were at Clinton Street, Hollywood or some other east side theater. I know I wouldn\’t haul myself over to Cinema 21 . . . .

another ben
Guest
another ben

this weekend is full of competition. theres been non-stop activities in portland lately, and most recently: music fest NW has a lot of people preoccupied.

when you combine that with the fact that the BFF DVD is being released on sunday….
well some people figure:
\”i can just buy the dvd (which will probably be less than the cost of a festival pass) and attend all of the other stuff in town thats going on this weekend.\”

c a
Guest
c a

music fest nw, time based art festival, gorgeous fall weekend?

Burk
Guest
Burk

I was at the Friday cyclocross clinic at Brentwood/Darlington Park.

Bearhat
Guest
Bearhat

i agree with another ben, there\’s a lot going on this weekend. musicfest NW and people are headed off to Cycle Oregon as well. this weekend has definitely been chaotic in downtown and everyone seems to be scattered or has other priorities. i loved the films i saw Friday night and i\’m going to try to make the 7pm showing tonight.

perhaps this is all in the timing?
as far as the $1 beers across the street..i think that may have to do with the regular crowd at the Gypsy and the bike kids not wanting to go in. i didn\’t care too much for the bar, but we hung around for a little bit anyhow.

K
Guest
K

1) The Bagdad would have been the choice theater.
2) Just because I\’m into bikes doesn\’t mean I want to attend a bike film festival.

geoffrey
Guest
geoffrey

spending a couple of hours on a theatre seat watching something someone wants one to see is nothing like sitting on a bike seat absorbed with things one wants or must see for their own survival.
movies are a poor replacement for doing it.

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

What is the big deal about going up to NW 21st from any part of the city? Oh what, is it too yuppie? Is the sad turnout just another example of Pacific Northwest regionalism? Wrong table in the High School Cafeteria?

K
Guest
K

Selfishly, it\’s out of my way. That\’s all. I typically skip it for most movies. Laziness? Yeah.

Elliot
Guest
Elliot

It\’s pretty much a perfect storm of things to do around town this weekend. Every Musicfest NW venue I\’ve seen has had no bike parking available within the radius of a city block.

t-rex
Guest
t-rex

it\’s all about timing. with the Musicfest and everything else, people want to be out enjoying the last weekends of summer. If it had been in the dead of winter, when everyone is curled up inside anyways, I think the turnout would be huge…

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

work last night.
heavy pounding on my leg at the tattoo shop today…

also it\’s not like bike things are novel for us here. not that i\’m not grateful though.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

2) Just because I\’m into bikes doesn\’t mean I want to attend a bike film festival.

Seconded. I checked out the program and none of the films sounded especially interesting to me. Granted, I\’d DEFINITELY rather be at a bike film fest than futzing with VMWare for work-related tasks on my *own* time, but given a real option, I\’d probably opt to go bike some place interesting and hang out with fun people than sit in a darkened auditorium and convince myself that it\’s worth it to watch films I\’m not super-interested in because I get to feel like I\’m part of something in a passive, spectatorial way….

Alright kids, back to the slog! 🙂

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

And really, no offense intended towards the film makers, the organizers, or anyone attending. I probably like things that some of you are severely disinterested in, and that\’s fine, right? 🙂

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

Well, I enjoyed Klunkerz, learned quite a bit about the early days of mountain biking, and met Tankagnolo Bob.

cx 'er
Guest
cx 'er

lots of people out sick – – with cyclocross fever!

Crash N. Burns
Guest
Crash N. Burns

Have the organizers ever heard of Youtube? Sort of seem most of them already.

Hollie
Guest
Hollie

Meh– it wasn\’t that out of the way. We managed to get ourselves over there from inner SE and enjoyed \”Klunkerz\”. It being such a nice day, it was a fun ride over there. Special thanks go to the nice woman who worked the bike parking out front!

Donna
Guest
Donna

I\’d say that about 75% of the films that were played were about forms of biking that I have little personal interest in. However, I went to every feature and found myself enjoying 100% of them.

That said, there was a certain amount of discomfort involved with staying inside a dark movie theater all day on one of the last beautiful days of the season. I do think there would have been a better turnout during the rainy season. It may well be a moot point. I suspect they will not return here. If we\’re lucky, they\’ll go to Seattle, and those of us who really want to go will find a way. People came from as far away as Texas to attend, so I guess I can manage one train trip.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

I do think there would have been a better turnout during the rainy season.

Hope you BFF organizers have caught this and related points. If you\’re coming to Portland, don\’t make it in the period right before the beautiful weather goes away! 🙂

Paul S
Guest

Why, in such a bike-crazy town are people not flocking to this festival?

Because we\’re out riding bikes?

Paul S
Guest

p.s. although I heard of the festival I thought it was somehow related to Filmed by Bike. I was like, \”meh, this stuff happens all the time.\” All these festivals kind of blur together.

Scout
Guest

A couple of points from a Cinema 21 employee:

•I heard a lot of people who came by the theater (and who came into my other job a block away from the Clinton) ponder what the point of this film festival was. I assured many folks that this was different than Filmed By Bike, but to most people it seemed too similar. Didn\’t they just see this?

•I also agree with what a few other people said: just because I love to ride my bike doesn\’t mean I want to spend a day or two watching bike-related movies. On Saturday, for instance, I rode my bike from PDX to Vancouver for the first time, had quite a fun adventure. I don\’t think it would have mattered what was playing at the theater that day, because I was out on a nice, long ride!

Anyway, I stopped in at the cinema on my ride home, they were quite busy, and I helped out a bit before popping my head in to catch one of the movies—bikecar. Though it was a great short, and I can\’t judge the whole festival by one movie, I just didn\’t feel like sticking around for more…and I got in for free!

•I think Portlanders love riding their bikes, love living in a bike-friendly city and all that, but we\’d just rather BE riding our bikes. Riding my bike has become so ingrained in my life, that I don\’t think of it as a lifestyle difference at all. I don\’t think many car drivers would have turned out for a documentary on the auto industry just because they drive cars.

•Also, to describe the turn-out as meager is misleading. To sell out Cinema 21 requires over 550 customers per show. That\’s one of the biggest auditoriums in town. Sorry if I feel the need to defend the theater I work for, but I don\’t understand why so many people slag a place with great people, cheap food, and an owner who is just a guy rather than a corporation. Hundreds of people showed up for each show—enough that many would have been turned away if the festival had been held at a different theater—but just because every seat wasn\’t packed doesn\’t mean it was a bad turn-out. If the organizers want to move the festival to a smaller theater to provide the illusion of being more popular, then that\’s their choice. I guess it\’s true…people only think something is cool if they can\’t get into it!

edjukator
Guest
edjukator

Films didn\’t draw us in more than the $3-beer theater line ups, I was busy with other events, cinema 21 makes me think $6-8 dollar films, 21st & 23rd (I tend to think of like hip-valley malls), I think I heard about some krypto sponsorship which made me think big-bike-boring, friends weren\’t going…

Not to say any of these thoughts are good/bad, right/wrong, just that these types of thoughts kept us away – simple as that for us…

beth h
Guest

Too busy riding my bike to watch a film about riding my bike.

dr
Guest
dr

Portland\’s Filmed by Bike festival is a little more of the crowd that represents portland\’s bike culture. I went to a block last night at the BFF and it was mainly hipsters from Seattle who wouldn\’t shut up, yelling inane, grade school remarks about damn near every film. It seems like bike culture to them is mainly track bikes and how many variations of the trick they can do on them while showboating around(we get it, you\’re really productive with your free time), identical clothing, and a cooler than thou attitude. I was kinda bummed on the vibe. If that\’s what the BFF is gonna bring to the table to each city, they can gladly skip Portland, and take the shallow egocentric scene with them. I know I\’ve had enough of it.

Ayleen
Guest

To say that we only want to be riding our bikes, not watching movies about riding our bikes is simply not true for everyone, and I don\’t think that is a forward thinking attitude.

An advanced bike culture is one that celebrates the artistic side of cycling: the music, the films, the paintings. We are more than just cyclists, we have many more talents, and how awesome to incorporate bikes into those talents… and then to have an audience!

I, for one, don\’t want to just merely ride my bike all the time. Watching bikes on the silver screen is a validates that what we\’re doing on the streets is totally killer.

Bicycle Film Festival did an excellent job in Portland. Scout\’s right: that theater is huge and the owner is a great guy. And, come on, Cinema 21 is not that far away. For NE\’ers like me it\’s actually closer than Clinton Street.

But on the whole note of this super nice weather, yeah, that\’s a hard one. The way I see it, BFF had about five factors going against it, none of which were strong on their own but together contributed a more subdued scene.

Still a great time and good movies and I hope BFF comes back again next year. Oh, and by the way, Filmed by Bike\’s call for entries just went out. Deadline is March 1.

Tankagnolo Bob
Guest

The festival was great. I attended a good part of Saturday. Klunkerz was grand, a very fair history of the MTB. I was so impressed with the films broad view of MTB history, going back to 1953 and before.

Hats off to Billy Savage. Hats off to Brent and Zoe who put on the event. I wish Portland had been there, as it was a world class event. I hope the cause of low turnout could be answered so that they would come back next year.

Tankagnolo Bob

zilfondel
Guest
zilfondel

oops. I totally forgot about it – and even have the flyer! 😛

Scout
Guest

To say that we only want to be riding our bikes, not watching movies about riding our bikes is simply not true for everyone, and I don\’t think that is a forward thinking attitude.

Sorry, but I only intended to speak for myself there. I know a lot of people wanted to see the movies, and I may have if it was a different day. What I meant to say was that just because we have a lot of cyclists doesn\’t mean those people are necessarily going to partake in a Bicycle Film Festival.

Thanks for the kind words, though.

Ken
Guest
Ken

I would have been there for sure but just returned today from a week out of town. I knew I was going to miss it and was a bit bummed. I agree, it sounds like it was just a combination of things that worked against it this year.

I hope they get the store portion of their website up soon because I wanted to buy this years and last years DVD from them.

Cecil
Guest

\”What is the big deal about going up to NW 21st from any part of the city? Oh what, is it too yuppie? \”

Dunno – are poorly aging ex-frat boys in long baggy shorts, college sweatshirts and backwards-facing baseball caps that might as well have a neon sign that says \”trying desperately to hide male pattern baldness,\” yuppies? 🙂

But seriously, if I were to pick one area of town I would rather avoid on a Friday night on my bike, it\’s NW. Narrow streets, lots of cars, and way too many people out looking for a good time and not looking where they are going.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

To say that we only want to be riding our bikes, not watching movies about riding our bikes is simply not true for everyone, and I don\’t think that is a forward thinking attitude.

An advanced bike culture is one that celebrates the artistic side of cycling: the music, the films, the paintings. We are more than just cyclists, we have many more talents, and how awesome to incorporate bikes into those talents… and then to have an audience!

All well and good…if your chief thing is bike culture. I don\’t think there\’s anything wrong with having bike culture, talking about bike culture, propagating bike culture, or celebrating bike culture but let\’s not for one minute pretend that bike culture is exceptionally important to anyone not already obsessed with it. Bike culture\’s audience is by-and-large bike culture. It\’s fun and/or interesting stuff a lot of the time, but not everybody wants to devote all their energy towards it.

If you\’re truly interested in celebrating the diversity of people who bike, you\’re going to have to accept that not all of us find bike-this and bike-that to be appealing, period. We\’ve each got a different motivations and interests. Bikes are fortunately a pretty broad field, thanks to the crazy amount of completely different people who do stuff with them -and that goes just as much for the people who want to watch bike movies as those who don\’t! 🙂

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

As a longtime staff member at the Telluride Film Festival, (the best film festival in the world, by the way) I have to say that watching a film at a festival is not a passive experience, and those strangers you entered the theater with now share something with you as you leave. It may seem old-fashioned, but it really is better to see a movie in the cinema than at home, not just because of the screen size, but because of the magic of community that develops wordlessly among the audience. This feeling doesn\’t always happen – corporate theater chains like Regal do everything in their power to kill it, and bad movies are still bad movies – but most of the power of film can only be realized if you\’re not watching it alone.

I hope the BFF comes back, and I hope the organizers choose a less-packed weekend next time.

Caps
Guest
Caps

3pm on a Saturday afternoon that appeals to the mountain biking crowd? On average we need to drive an hour to and from the trail heads.

Even it if was more fall\’ish type of weather it would still be hard to justify not being out on the trails.

Take a look at Fat Tire Farm\’s movie events. They have a good turn out and they generally start at 7pm or so.

Mike
Guest
Mike

few people as into bikes as i am but seriously, this scene is tired. i just couldn\’t tolerate another sooo cool event laden with hipsters locking their new city series langsters to tree limbs.

Jessy
Guest

I know that the reason I didn\’t go is because there were SO MANY films (since it was a multi-day event) that I felt overwhelmed trying to choose, and just gave up and skipped the whole thing.

Lame, maybe, but that\’s what happened for me.

Kenny
Guest
Kenny

At $3 a movie…and in the right location…it would be a big hit. At $5-6 a movie and no guarantee of a place to sit though??

Jarrett
Guest
Jarrett

I just wanted to note how much I loved this paragraph:

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.

Boy howdy, can there be a single reason Portland didn\’t have the same turnout as those cities? I just can\’t think of one.

Sarcasm set drippingly aside for a moment, I think you might be taking these people\’s words a bit too much to heart. (And aren\’t you out of town – how do you know the films were \’impressive\’?). I arrived early to the theater last Wednesday – I also work there – and listened to about a half-hour of a discussion between three of the organizers (Barbur, a girl, and a Jason Mewes impersonator) talk with the theater\’s owner about how to get more people interested. I\’m standing there thinking, maybe having this conversation two days before the festival starts isn\’t a sign of the greatest planning.

Here\’s the sad part as far as I\’m concerned (and Scout\’s right: the festival\’s peeps may be unsatisfied, but that was a pretty good turnout), in the couple hours I helped or hung out on Saturday, I saw only one family – a mother, father, and their two kids. It looked as if the Festival\’s organizers did a marvelous job of getting hipsters to attend, and even some boneheads who rode their bikes backward and on one-wheel and suchlike around the Gypsy\’s parking lot trying to impress girls. But how much of a market are hipsters and showoffs, really? If you want to sell out an auditorium as big as C21\’s you\’re going to have to attract more mainstream folks. That may be an unattractive thought for zealots, but it\’s obviously good business. That there appeared to be little intention of that on the organizer\’s part is really too bad.

But, man, that poster/program sure was beautiful. If only they\’d put whomever designed that in charge of marketing, they might be happier today.

Billy Savage
Guest

I\’ve very honored to have my film, KLUNKERZ, in the BFF and I\’m happy that any the people that did attend the screening enjoyed it. I love Portland for many reasons, chiefly the cycling and (Old Tyme) music scenes, the scenery, and the people. I was very happy that Brendt decided to make a stop there with the BFF.

I\’d particularly like to thank Portland-area resident Tankagnolo Bob, who took time out of his life to bring his bike and enthusiasm to the festival. It was the pioneering efforts of people like him that made off-road cycling what it is today.

FYI: Not all the cycling films these days are disposable \’bike porn\’ meant to replace the experience of actually riding, nor are they all YouTube-able…I hope. I think Brendt did a great job getting some top-notch films this year, and I\’m honored to have my film counted among them.

I made KLUNKERZ to educate people about a really cool invention and document a piece of American history, not to keep people from riding their bikes. If you were really out riding your bike…good for you. You can always buy it or rent it from NetFlix. It\’s better for the filmmakers anyway, as we\’re all deeply in debt and don\’t make money from film festivals:).

KLUNKERZ, as well as some of the other films in the BFF, have been playing at \’straight\’ film festivals all over the county. Ayame played with KLUNKERZ at the Santa Barbara Int\’l Film Festival, Monkey Warfare was at Toronto, etc. You won\’t be finding these films on YouTube anytime soon.

If you couldn\’t make the screening and would like to find out more about the film, and the pioneers who helped create the sport of mountain biking, please visit http://www.klunkerz.com and sign the \’guest book\’. Thanks Portland.

P.S. Caps: Sorry to hear about your commute…\”On average we need to drive an hour to and from the trail heads.\” That\’s a lot of gas to go ride a bike.

DK
Guest
DK

We need more to impress us here in bike city usa. And a ride down to nw 21st, where most of us never want to be seen anyway, is not the way to draw bikes and folks. And too, didn\’t the organizers do their homework before scheduling us in? We like to play here. It\’s a lot like opening a coffee shop in a coffee drinkers town. We\’ve seen it all before, so you better come with it in a good locale to bring us back in.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

Jarrett: very, very well said.

Curt Dewees
Guest
Curt Dewees

[I realize my comments on the SHIFT list may have come across as a bit snooty, so here\’s a follow-up comment:] Seriously, I would have loved to go to some of these films, but last weekend was just do freakin\’ busy with so many other cool happenings!

Here\’s a listing (by no means complete) of all the other events happening in Portland on THE SAME DAMN WEEKEND as the film fest:

* Muddy Boot Organic Festival
* TBA Arts Festival
* MusicFest NW
* Belmont Street Fair
* KBOO FM Annual Used Book & Record Sale
* Oregon Small Business Fair
* Widmer Brothers Annual Oktoberfest (w/ live music from fun musical acts!)
* absolutely perfect weather for being outside and/or riding bikes!

I\’m sorry to hear the the Film Festival\’s organizers may lose money in Portland. I would encourage them to come back to Puddletown and try again, preferably in November, or January or February, when it\’s cold, dark, and wet outside, and not as many cool events are happening simultaneously.

–CD

BillD
Guest
BillD

\”…… 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.\”

This is to be expected. The promoters are fishing in a much smaller pond here. Only Paris (2,153,600) and Chicago (2,842,518) have fewer folks than the entire state of Oregon (3,700,758), while Portland has only 533,427 residents.

Comparing the turnout to New York City is just silly… there are more people eating a sausage pizza in New York City, at any given moment, than have ever ridden a bike in Portland.

keq
Guest
keq

dr said:

Portland\’s Filmed by Bike festival is a little more of the crowd that represents portland\’s bike culture. I went to a block last night at the BFF and it was mainly hipsters from Seattle who wouldn\’t shut up, yelling inane, grade school remarks about damn near every film. It seems like bike culture to them is mainly track bikes and how many variations of the trick they can do on them while showboating around(we get it, you\’re really productive with your free time), identical clothing, and a cooler than thou attitude. I was kinda bummed on the vibe. If that\’s what the BFF is gonna bring to the table to each city, they can gladly skip Portland, and take the shallow egocentric scene with them. I know I\’ve had enough of it.

i agree!!

overall this was my least favorite of all the bffs (i have been to 2 in sf). alternating between being new age and leaving me with the, \”is this a BICYCLE film festival?\” feeling to lots of, \”let\’s video tape each other riding through traffic really fast or while doing some sick tricks\” to, \”oh yeah, i saw this on youtube last year.\” granted, i only made it out to one set of films due to how uninteresting the rest of them seemed. i guess we all need to submit films so they have something more interesting to choose from.

the new lucas brunelle film, \”lucas brunelle worldwide broadcast\” was entertaining. the la burrito project film was heartwarming. i also wished i had seen the \”bikecar\” movie but i am sure i can buy it online. plus that will save me the trouble of trying to hear it over the fast friday kids and local possengers who wouldn\’t stop making third grade jokes and throwing empty beer bottles and popcorn on our heads from the balcony.

overall, i would rather have rode my bike more and gone home to watch \”quicksilver\” or \”2 seconds\”.

Alan
Guest
Alan

Why didn\’t I go to the film fest? Um, I saw the ads, so that wasn\’t it.

Look, I go see a film when someone recommends it. What is a Bike Film Fest? I\’m unclear on the concept. Why should my main squeeze (not a rider) and I spend our time on such an unknown quantity (esp. when the weather is great and there are so many other things to do?)

No putdown of the Film Fest intended here. But I really didn\’t/don\’t get why it was a must-see.

wyatt
Guest
wyatt

I didn\’t go because I can\’t stand to be around most people (This is a big reason why I like cycling :)). Especially the kind of people that apparently showed up.

gwadzilla
Guest

47 excuses….

now 48

3,200 miles

Keith Walker
Guest
Keith Walker

Don\’t blame me, I showed for the last 2 programs, then went to musicfest…

timothy
Guest
timothy

MUSIC FEST NW?