‘Aftermass’ documentary, about Critical Mass in Portland, will open May 23

A promotional image for the film.

A local man’s documentary history of the Critical Mass movement in Portland will premiere May 23 at the Clinton Street Theater, Southeast 26th and Clinton.

“It tells the story of how advocacy and activism coalesced to create Portland’s bicycle network over the last 40 years,” Aftermass filmmaker Joe Biel wrote in an email.

Biel began filming the story of the monthly urban bike ride, which mixed fun and activism, in 2009. Among other things, he scored a pre-candidacy interview with future Mayor Charlie Hales, who twice checked out Critical Mass by joining it anonymously while he served on city council 15 years ago. We’ve covered the making of this film, and parts of the story it tells, for years, so it’s exciting to see it on the big screen at last.

In 2006, the Portland Police Bureau spent $20,000 on Critical Mass-related traffic enforcement. Eight years later, there are regularly no participants in the monthly ride (though the local organization’s website was updated last November).

“Was it no longer relevant, did its activity not appeal to a cycling ‘mainstream,’ or was a police crackdown just so successful?” the movie’s press materials ask. “What are the new goals of cyclists? What is the new activism? How are objectives reached? And perhaps most importantly, how had Critical Mass compounded with other activism and advocacy to create North America’s premiere bicycling mecca?”

The film is the winner of the Board Choice Award from the Eugene International Film Festival. Distribution rights have been sold to The Bosko Group for DVD and online video on demand such as Netflix and iTunes. Tickets for the May 23 showing, at 7 p.m., will cost $7.

Michael Andersen (Contributor)

Michael Andersen (Contributor)

Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.

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Dave McCabe
9 years ago

Looking forward to the film. I want to take this opportunity to point out one of my all time favorite bike films: We are Traffic! by Ted White. (The Multnomah County Library has the DVD.) This is a film about the history and politics of Critical Mass. The film emphasizes the movement’s democracy and peace-focus which is frequently missed when it is portrayed in mainstream media. I encourage all bike enthusiast/advocates to check out the film, maybe especially as a primer to this new film.

p.s. I don’t know Ted White or have any association with the film

Craig Harlow
Craig Harlow
9 years ago
Reply to  Dave McCabe

Agreed. We are Traffic! [1999] is a really interesting historical film that sets the context for Portland’s Critical Mass, and, as a bonus, it’s coupled on the library’s DVD with the fantastic Return of the Scorcher” [1992], in which George Bliss is often credited with coining the term “Critical Mass” in the urban cycling context…

http://vimeo.com/22839392 (5:57)


Gasper Johnson
9 years ago

For a more recent example of our vanishing freedom of assembly law look to “Still We Ride” about Critical Mass in NYC. I remember hosting that screening at the Clinton 8 years ago. I still can’t believe they used a helicopter to police a bike ride. Absurd! http://microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/books/1536/

9 years ago
Reply to  Gasper Johnson

That was a regular occurrence when I rode LA Critical Mass…it was better than any bike light! Eventually the cops took over the ride completely and led it with motorcycles and corked intersections. That’s when I decided to stop attending.