The Bicycle Film Festival, Origins and Toronto Highlights
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The Bicycle Film Festival, Origins and Toronto Highlights

A compilation of scenes from films screened at past and current editions of the Bicycle Film Festival.

The Bicycle Film Festival was born of turning negative experiences into positive ones. Twelve years ago, when festival creator Brendt Barbur was riding his bike in New York City, he was forced in front of a bus and hit. Such an experience might lead some to angry activism, but instead it bred in Barbur a desire to connect people through film, art, and culture, with the bicycle as a rallying point.
This year marks the fifth year of the Bicycle Film Festival in Toronto and the 11th worldwide. Starting in NYC with funds gathered from his settlement, Barbur has built a global event: 28 cities around the world host the Bicycle Film Festival in 2011, screenings hundreds of films, showcasing dozens of musicians and artists, all in the name of the world’s most elegant invention: the bicycle.

The Bicycle Film Festival started in order to help galvanize a cycling community in New York. After Barbur was hit, he says, “The bus driver came over and stared at me and didn’t say a word. The man in the van didn’t say a word. I felt a lack of respect and wanted to do something to advocate bike use, but I didn’t know how to do it.” The path to creating compelling initiatives often lies in what one knows. “I’m into art, I’m into film, so that’s what I did.”
One of the most important characteristics of this festival has been the ability to embrace and include different communities of cyclists—commuters, racers, couriers, pro athletes—along with artists, musicians, filmmakers, and supporters. The first year of the festival, Barbur curated films already available. Selling out shows the first year, then the second, led to filmmakers making films specifically for the festival and the Bicycle Film Festival eventually producing films itself. The types of films are diverse—documentaries, shorts, music videos, and features—and include some hardcore courier films (Lucas Brunelle Video 2011), some highly aestheticized (Bike Race), and others that pull at the heartstrings (Labour of Love). As the festival grew, it steadily expanded beyond films and parties into holding concerts and art shows. “Joyride,” the art show, has showcased Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Swoon, and Shepard Fairey, while concerts have included Do Make Say Think, the Bicycles, and this year the Meligrove Band.
Last year, the Bicycle Film Festival brought 225,000 people out in cities as geographically dispersed as London, Tokyo, Milan, and Toronto. “There is a huge global fervour for bike culture, much like hip-hop was in the ’80s; it wasn’t just music—it was fashion and it was art and it was political,” says Barbur. The rise of cycling in Toronto seems to reflect this. Bixi’s launch, Art Spin, bike lane protests, and bike polo tournaments all point to the movement that the Bicycle Film Festival is proud to be part of.

Trans Andes Challenge screens as part of the Racing Towards Red Hook programme on Friday night at the Royal.

Toronto Bicycle Film Festival Highlights
Tonight the BFF rolls through the Horseshoe Tavern for the Bikes Rock! concert featuring the Meligrove Band, Octoberman, Christien Summers and Evalyn Parry’s SPIN all starting at 8 p.m.Films kick off at the Royal Cinema (608 College Street) Friday at 7p.m. with a global program, including Racing Towards Red Hook. At 9 p.m. is Parts Unknown, a film that follows the precarious situation of George, the legendary bike mechanic of Kensington Market.
Saturday brings more Canadian content to the screen, with Virginia Hastings’ Labour of Love at 5 p.m. and the Deadly Nightshades short Fabric Bike at 9 p.m. The BFF launched Wednesday night with the “Back Breaks Art Show” opening at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street West), which is on until Sunday at their second floor exhibition space.
Full program details and advance tickets are available here.

Aubrey Podolsky is the producer of the Bicycle Film Festival in Toronto, Creative Planner at Capital C and the co-founder of, a forthcoming online publication and event series that aims to bring together young makers and design-thinkers across Toronto.