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L.A. bicycle enthusiasts gear up for film festival

September 7, 2011 |  1:15 pm

“Bill Cunningham New York,” this spring’s critically lauded documentary about the much-admired Manhattan street style photographer, is most certainly a film about fashion.  But it is also a movie about bicycles.

Not only does Cunningham get around on two wheels, but the film’s director, Richard Press, followed the photographer by riding an adult-sized tricycle with cinematographer Tony Cenicola on the back seat, weaving in and out of traffic and capturing Cunningham in action as he snapped shots for his regular feature in Sunday’s New York Times style section.   

“The bike is this thing that allows [Cunningham] to traverse every layer of society and culture in New York,” Press said. “It gives him entree to life in the city in the best possible way.”

Press’ film is among 56 bicycle-related movies rolling out at the Bicycle Film Festival, which kicks off its seventh year in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Organized group bike rides are a popular mode of travel to the screenings -- which will be held at the Downtown Independent -- and Sunday’s street party at the Paragon Parking Lot at South Spring and 4th streets downtown. The photograph at the top of the post is from the short film "Last Minutes With Oden."

Free bike valet will be available for most of the festival’s events, although those without a pair of wheels are encouraged to attend as well. Founding festival Director Brendt Barbur said he hopes people see the festival “and are inspired and maybe decide that they can ride a bike too.”

Barbur was inspired to start the festival in 2001, after he was hit by a bus while riding his bike in New York City. Motivated to turn his negative experience into a positive one, he has brought the festival of art, music and film to 39 cities around the world to celebrate bicycles. Since the first  L.A. edition in  2005, Barbur has observed a growth of the bicycling community in the city.

“Our first years in L.A., there wasn’t that many cyclists… . But I think Los Angeles has one of the most positive and largest [urban bike] movements in the United States,” he said, adding that  BFF may have  had a little something to do with the increasing interest in cycling.

BFF features the work of such well-known directors as Spike Jonze, BFF regulars such as Casey Neistat (of the Neistat brothers) and first-time filmmakers. The lineup includes  narratives and documentaries, both shorts and features.

Jessica Scott, who works for ESPN’s consumer marketing team in New York, has her first film in the festival, a 20-minute documentary called “Racing Towards Red Hook” about a fixed-gear competition in New York. The film also screened at BFF’s New York and Washington, D.C., festivals, which Scott attended.

“It was unbelievably intimidating -- the fact that we were premiering at this event well known in the bicycle community. These people know more about cycling than I will ever know,” Scott said.

Barbur noted that although most of the films have high production value, “the movie that’s the most popular may be the one that the least amount of money was spent on.”

“It’s probably one of the most fun film festival crowds. They have a lot of energy after riding around,” Barbur said. “I’ve heard from filmmakers that you can’t reach a more appreciative crowd.”

The Bicycle Film Festival runs Thursday through Sunday evening, ending with a street party at the Paragon Parking Lot. All films screen at the Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St. Tickets cost $10 for individual programs, $35 for the whole festival or $20 for a Saturday pass and are available at bicyclefilmfestival.com/los-angeles.


Kenneth Turan's 'Bill Cunningham New York' review

Before Cobra Snake or the Sartorialist, there was Bill Cunningham

-- Emily Rome

Photo: A scene from "Last Minutes With Oden," showing at the Bicycle Film Festival. Credit: Eliot Rausch