Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

Two wheels won't get you far in Tinseltown
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Hollywood has always been about cars. Horses and trains have their moments - well, horses have had several entire genres to themselves.

But bicycles in film? Not so as you'd notice. There are no lucrative product-placement opportunities, plus it's hard to look dignified or sexy: try imagining John Wayne pedalling his roadster, or Marilyn Monroe.

You get odd romantic moments, such as Butch Cassidy's "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" sequence. In The Great Escape, James Coburn escapes on a bicycle; Steve McQueen steals a motorbike and is caught: bicycles are anonymous.

Films that take cycling as their heart come from outside the mainstream, and they don't always give it a positive image.

In Bicycle Thieves, the stolen bike is a lifeline for the starving man, but it's also a symbol of poverty and powerlessness and, finally, a badge of shame. In the cartoon Belleville Rendez-Vous, the obsessive bike racer is a drudge with no interior life.

Peter Yates is credited with inventing the car chase in Bullitt, but his Breaking Away (1979) takes cycling as a central theme and makes it look like fun. It's about a student who finds his identity through cycling.

Brendt Barbur saw Breaking Away as a boyand it had a big impact on him. In 1999, on his bike in New York City, he was hit by a bus. To increase society's respect for cycling, he launched a film festival.

The first Bicycle Film Festival was held in New York. It has now spread to San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, LA, Tokyo, Sydney, Milan and London, and has become an international meeting place for cyclists.

This year's London event runs from tomorrow to Saturday at the Cochrane Theatre near Holborn. Films have been submitted from Bosnia, Albania, Cambodia, Thailand and Iran.

Brendt believes that "people around the world are eager for change". Having grown up in San Francisco and seen the beginnings of Critical Mass, he talks in terms of a "worldwide movement" of urban cyclists. "This movement will leave possibly the most positive and strong impression on this decade," he says. "I consider the bicycle an answer to many of society's problems."

The London festival's programme opens with Pedal, a portrait of life as a New York City bike messenger, and closes with Written on the Streets, a short which focuses on London bike messengers, and M.A.S.H., about fixed-gear riding in San Francisco.

The bits between include Adventure High, an Estonian documentary about five friends riding from Mongolia to Nepal, Joe Kid on a Stingray - a History of BMX, and Something to Aim At, a film about the great British racing cyclist Tom Simpson.

And before and after the festival there will be big cycling parties.

Box office: 020-7269 1606; www.bicyclefilmfestival.com

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