Motorcycle Film Festival 2015: Movie Shorts

The world of big budget movies has traditionally had very little to offer motorcycle enthusiasts. Since the inception of cinema, there have been little more than a handful of movies that told our stories or represented motorcyclists accurately. This is why it is so exciting to see that access to affordable cameras, editing software and online distribution has finally driven motorcycling related film making out of the confines of Hollywood studios and into the hands of people who ride and build bikes and understand motorcycling best. We have seen an explosion of independent movies that capture all that motorcycling has to offer.

The Motorcycle Film Festival in New York was started three years ago by riders and film enthusiasts who wanted to showcase these movies and bring the community together for three days of high quality movies, interviews with film makers, and an opportunity to meet other riders in the city. This year’s selection of 35 films featured everything from slick productions with significant sponsor backing to amateur garage flicks. It was especially thrilling to see movies made by and featuring women and people of color, hitherto almost non-existent in popular motorcycling culture.

The 2015 Motorcycle Film Festival (Image depicts a row of motorcycles parked on the street in front of a building with a sign that says Motorcycle Film Festival)

The 2015 Motorcycle Film Festival

 

These are some of my favorite films from the festival.

THE COAST TO COAST RELAY

The Coast to Coast Relay is a five minute gem of a film about two men riding across England on completely inappropriate vehicles – Montesa Cota 315 trials bikes with 3-liter gas tanks, a top speed of 30 mph, and of course, no seats. They ride from Newcastle upon Tyne to the Irish Sea through rough single track trails, logging roads and frozen snowscapes with minimal gear – handlebar mounted packs, backpacks, and a homemade selfie stick.  They take in their stride the various mishaps they encounter, ranging from overheated engines and flat tires to the inevitable running out of fuel.

The fun, upbeat score and the self-deprecating humor makes it impossible to watch this movie without a big smile on your face. By the time it’s done, you want to grab your bike and go have a micro-adventure of your own. Filmmaker Greg Villalobos truly knows how to say more with less as he hits the magic formula to portray the joy of riding and having fun with your buddies. The movie took home the prize for the Best Short Documentary, and deservedly so.

If you enjoyed watching that, check out this interview with the filmmaker Greg Villalobos, where he talks about the making of the movie: http://www.motorcyclefilmfestival.com/blog/2015/9/20/visiting-with-greg-villalobos.

Follow Greg Villalobos’ work at: http://gregvillalobos.co.uk

FIFTY YEARS OF KICKS

“Don’t assume that because people are older than you, they’re going to be slower than you.” This line from 50 Years of Kicks summarizes the message of this twenty minute documentary. The movie follows 60+ year old dirt riders Paul Rodden and Larry Murray from Oklahoma and Ontario respectively. Each of them have almost fifty years of riding experience and many enduro championship wins, which comes across when you see them tearing through ruts, sand, mud, water crossings and hill climbs on their KTMs. They fall, drop their bikes, pick them back up and keep going.

They reflect back to the old days when Husqvarna manuals dedicated half their space to physical conditioning in the rider, paving the way for good workout habits that stayed with them for a lifetime. Habits that served them well in one of the most physical demanding sports there is, especially as your body ages and you lose core strength and balance. During one sober recollection, they talk about a close friend who died of a heart attack while riding on the trails with them. And of that being the best possible way to go – with a smile on your face minutes ago while doing what you loved best.

Motorcycling media tends to focus on young riders as their core target demographic. This leaves us bereft of older role models. It is harder for us to envision riding when we hit a certain age because we see nobody else doing it and doing it well. That’s what makes this movie especially important. It drives home the fact that we don’t have to give up our passion as we age. Here’s hoping that 50 Years leads to more positive representations of old folks riding their bikes and showing the youngsters how it’s done.

Filmmakers: Anthony Kerr and Dallas Shannon
Follow Motojournalism at: http://motojournalism.blogspot.com/

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Motorcycle Movies: Dirtbag II: The Return of the Rattler

The premise of The Return of the Rattler is simple. Four men decide to participate in the Dirtbag Challenge held annually in the San Francisco Bay Area. The challenge involves building a chopper in one month for less than $1000. It needs to be a rideable machine that can run at least 100 miles without breaking down. They have a Yamaha XS650 to work with – the Rattler from the title – but they are complete novices to building choppers, with no prior experience with welding or fabrication. What could go wrong?

The movie is a riot of laughter as you watch the bike evolve from design to final assembly. Our protagonists cuss and laugh their way through all the unanticipated problems they run into. You laugh with them as they mess up, but you also see them learning from their mistakes, thinking through problems and asking for help when they are stuck. Somewhere down the line, you realize that they have passed on to you the secret to creating anything new.

Film maker Paolo Asuncion likens the process of building the bike to his own journey of questioning the belief system he grew up with. “I was put together a certain way but the stock parts didn’t work for me anymore.” he says. As with the Rattler, he had to figure out which parts of that system to keep, which ones needed to be swapped out with something different, and which ones needed to be created from scratch. Moments of reflection like these are interspersed throughout the movie, breaking up the laugh-a-minute ride and keeping it grounded.

You also get to see builds from other participants in the challenge – a Honda CM400 with modified beer bottles for headlamps, a 750 Monster with a girder front end – and understand how much the end vision can vary between builders. The one thing they have in common though is that they want their bike to be like nothing else out on the road. They talk about how satisfying it felt to build something real and tangible, and to ride something that they built with their own hands. Their firm belief is that “Anybody can do this.” By the end of the movie you start to believe them.

This is a movie with soul. You laugh, you learn, you grow, and you come away thinking it’s time to go get a project bike and start wrenching. All you need is a vision, a garage, and a buddy or two by your side.

 

 

Read an interview with film maker Paolo Asuncion: http://www.motorcyclefilmfestival.com/blog/2015/9/15/paolo-asuncion

Motorcycle Movies: L’équipée en Himalaya

This is a story of four French women who fly to India and ride across the Himalayan mountains on rented Royal Enfields. Women riding across the Himalayas is not a new thing – the Indian all-women motorcycling group Bikerni last did it in 2010. Riders from various countries have done it over the years. For those of us who haven’t yet ventured out there, this film is quite thrilling to watch for some of its incredible footage of gorgeous scenery and the dizzying roads the group traverses.

The movie begins with the four women starting their journey wearing three-quarter helmets, flowing scarves and regular street clothes – no real motorcycling gear between them. You wonder if you’re in for a very short movie because they’re probably going to bite the dust any minute now. As they climb in altitude, you see them adding more layers to keep warm, to a point where one of them is wearing seven t-shirts underneath her flimsy jacket. You wonder to yourself – “Did they just wake up one morning and think – ‘I think I’ll go ride the Himalayas today'”. Yes, that is a Legally Blonde reference.

After the first 45 minutes, you get over their poor clothing choices when they start traversing some incredibly difficult roads. You see them riding down rocky roads with sheer cliffs that make you dizzy even from the safety of your theater seat. You see them dealing with altitude sickness, freezing weather, rockfalls, and some of the most challenging roads in the world. All you can think is – respect!

By the time the credits roll, you know what kind of person you are – the kind who can’t wait to book a plane ticket to India and rent a Royal Enfield, or the kind who is happy to live vicariously through the people who thrive on this kind of adventure. Our ladies have earned some solid street cred and you can’t wait to see what their next adventure is going to be.

 

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Motorcycle Movies: Road Less Travelled

Dirt bikers and brothers James and Steven Beatty ride off-road across the Trans-America Trail – a different type of classic American road trip. They ride 5,000 miles from Tennessee to Oregon before reaching their final destination at the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, they ride across forest service roads, gnarly single track trails, slippery water crossings, and get caught in quicksand. They deal with crashes, injuries, getting lost, and breakdowns. This is a must-watch for those who hope to do the Trans America trail someday.

In one breathtaking shot, one of the riders narrowly missing a wild horse that runs across the trail. Another scene shows James working on his bike and getting indirectly zapped by lightning.

The movie does have its weaker points. The first hour is an entertaining narrative that focuses on the riding and the scenery and brings the viewer with them. Towards the end though, it breaks down into reality TV style melodrama, taking the focus away from the riding. The protagonist’s struggle to deal with his father’s death and seeking to expunge those demons during the ride frequently struck a false note, something that could easily have been remedied with a better voice actor. In spite of all this, the movie is worth a watch for the first hour alone.

Filmmaker: James Beatty

Project Livewire test ride

On June 19th, 2014, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company made a big announcement – the launch of a prototype electric bike dubbed Project Livewire. This was certainly a big surprise for HD purists as well as the rest of us. The first images of the concept bike looked promising. With its sleek styling, flowing lines, black with red and chrome accent paint scheme, it looked nothing like the traditional American-made cruisers that the factory has been putting out for the past 100 years.

 

livewire_5

 

HD purists were up in arms against what they perceived to be the company selling out to the Prius-driving, latte-sipping, tree-hugging hippies. The rest of the riding crowd – the sport bikers, the younger riders, the technology lovers and the electric bike aficionados – were curious but skeptical. Electric bikes have thus far been the province of small startups like Zero and Brammo who have consistently been putting out production quality street and dirt bikes since 2006, and one-off pioneers like Eva Håkansson, whose ElectroCat was to the first electric motorcycle to complete the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2010.

I’ve kept an eye on the evolution of electric bikes ever since the Zero first launched. The ride reports were promising but the limited range (approximately 40-50 miles between charges) and the lack of charging station infrastructure meant that it would be a while before I put down serious money for one. The old school motorcyclist in me was a little reluctant to give in to this change. Thus, I imagine, it has always been, from the switching over of landlines to mobile phones, and paper maps to GPS units, all changes that have happened in my life time. There is no stopping disruptive technology though, and the world moves forward whether or not you choose to go along with the change.

How did I get this incredible opportunity to ride a Project Livewire concept bike? Long story short – Jeff Henshaw of Microsoft Corp wrote a brilliant open letter to Harley Davidson congratulating them on making such a bold move urging them to bring these bikes to production immediately after fixing the range and battery charge time issues and pricing them to right to make them accessible to a different crowd. Harley Davidson HQ took note and contacted him, offering to set up a special test ride day for Microsoft motorcycle riders, a community that I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a part of for almost ten years. This would be part of their Project Livewire Experience Tour. When I saw that the Livewire had a low seat height of 31″, I signed up immediately and made the cut for the small group of riders who would get to ride the bike the tour hit Seattle. Major thanks to Jeff for making this happen!

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One Crazy Ride

One CrazyRide1

I just got home from watching One Crazy Ride, a movie made by Gaurav Jani, an Indian documentary filmmaker who makes motorcycling adventure movies. I was first introduced to his work by Vagabiker, who lent me Riding Solo to the Top of the World when we first met and I was recuperating from my crash in the Yukon. If his intention was to hasten my recovery by showing me motorcycling movies that made me chomp at the bit to get out and ride again, it worked like a charm.

Riding Solo was remarkable in so many ways. Filmmaking is a profession that is almost unheard of in India for the average person, in spite of the fact that it hosts the biggest film industry in the world. Rarer still is the use of motorcycles for touring as opposed to commuting in busy cities. The idea of combining the two on a barebones budget makes this man and his work truly unique. The movie followed his solo ride from Bombay to Ladakh in northern India on excruciatingly difficult roads unveiling region that most of the world barely knew exist. For someone like me, having led a fairly insular life in Bombay and rarely having the opportunity to travel within India, it was an eye-opener and a delightful insight into the unparalleled beauty of this country.

In One Crazy Ride, Gaurav Jani takes on a similar challenge, this time along with four friends, all part of a group called 60kph. The aim of this intrepid group of adventurers is to navigate through the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, making their way to the easternmost point without going over paved roads that went through Assam, the state bordering it on the south. Arunachal Pradesh is a state that even most Indians aren’t very familiar with, it being mostly skimmed over in geography books when we were little.  This is demonstrated eloquently as they rode through tiny villages and tribal settlements and encounter local people who had no idea what lay even a few miles outside their village.

Most of the route is by necessity off-road on roads washed out by mudslides, some littered with rocks and boulders, some slick and muddy from the rains, and occasional river crossings. On the way they encounter villages and  tribespeople living traditional lives that haven’t changed in hundreds of years. What makes their achievement truly commendable is the fact that they all rode heavily loaded Royal Enfields, bikes and equipment that make the average off-road bike on roads in the western world look like rocket science. It lays to waste the belief in most people’s minds that they need the latest, most expensive bikes in order to go “adventure riding” a marketing term if ever there was one, because when was riding a motorcycle ever not an adventure?

The movie is replete with unforgettable sights and gasp-inducing moments. One that stands out is of the group standing at the top of a mountain range and looking down at clouds floating beneath them like ocean waves. One of the stellar scenes of the movie showed Gaurav walking along a long, narrow, rickety bridge high over a river with flimsy woven rails flanking each side. This brief reconnoiter is followed by him riding his motorcycle slowly and excruciatingly over the bridge. The stress and strain of the five long minutes it took him to cross the bridge was so palpable that when he was done, there was a unanimous burst of applause in the audience.

One pleasant surprise that was unveiled during the beginning of the movie was that one of the riders, Nicky, was a woman, something that the movie didn’t make a big deal out of, in itself making it unique. Women riders are so rarely featured or represented in a positive way in the average motorcycling movie that her presence is one to make every woman in the audience who has ever donned a helmet silently cheer. (When quizzed on this by someone in the audience, the director responded that rural India has such an enduring culture of women doing the majority of the work that seeing a woman amongst the group passed without comment, as compared to reactions in more urban, westernized areas.)

To summarize, One Crazy Ride serves up everything that a truly good movie of the adventure motorcycling genre has to offer  good riding, challenging roads, quiet, cheerful camaraderie between the riders, tension and uncertainty brought on by mechanical breakdowns, interactions with people in lost, remote villages and unique insights into their lives and culture. Almost every motorcycle rider who has gone off the beaten track will feel a kinship with our heroes along with many moments of  “I know exactly what they mean!”

One Crazy Ride: http://dirttrackproductions.com/ocr.html
Dirt Track Productions: http://dirttrackproductions.com/ocr.html
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkb4558ym5w

Movie Review: One Crazy Ride

I just got home from watching One Crazy Ride, a movie made by Gaurav Jani, an Indian documentary filmmaker who makes motorcycling adventure movies. I was first introduced to his work by Vagabiker, who lent me Riding Solo to the Top of the World when we first met and I was recuperating from my crash in the Yukon. If his intention was to hasten my recovery by showing me motorcycling movies that made me chomp at the bit to get out and ride again, it worked like a charm.

Riding Solo was remarkable in so many ways. Filmmaking is a profession that is almost unheard of in India for the average person, in spite of the fact that it hosts the biggest film industry in the world. Rarer still is the use of motorcycles for touring as opposed to commuting in busy cities. The idea of combining the two on a barebones budget makes this man and his work truly unique. The movie followed his solo ride from Bombay to Ladakh in northern India on excruciatingly difficult roads unveiling region that most of the world barely knew exist. For someone like me – having led a fairly insular life in Bombay – and rarely having the opportunity to travel within India, it was an eye-opener and a delightful insight into the unparalleled beauty of this country.

In One Crazy Ride, Gaurav Jani takes on a similar challenge, this time along with four friends, all part of a group called 60kph. The aim of this intrepid group of adventurers is to navigate through the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, making their way to the easternmost point without going over paved roads that went through Assam, the state bordering it on the south. Arunachal Pradesh is a state that even most Indians aren’t very familiar with, it being mostly skimmed over in geography books when we were little.  This is demonstrated eloquently as they rode through tiny villages and tribal settlements and encounter local people who had no idea what lay even a few miles outside their village.Â

Most of the route is by necessity off-road on roads washed out by mudslides, some littered with rocks and boulders, some slick and muddy from the rains, and occasional river crossings. On the way they encounter villages and  tribespeople living traditional lives that haven’t changed in hundreds of years. What makes their achievement truly commendable is the fact that they all rode heavily loaded Royal Enfields, bikes and equipment that make the average off-road bike on roads in the western world look like rocket science. It lays to waste the belief in most people’s minds that they need the latest, most expensive bikes in order to go adventure riding – a marketing term if ever there was one, because when was riding a motorcycle ever not an adventure?

The movie is replete with unforgettable sights and gasp-inducing moments. One that stands out is of the group standing at the top of a mountain range and looking down at clouds floating beneath them like ocean waves. One of the stellar scenes of the movie showed Gaurav walking along a long, narrow, rickety bridge high over a river with flimsy woven rails flanking each side. This brief reconnoiter is followed by him riding his motorcycle slowly and excruciatingly over the bridge. The stress and strain of the five long minutes it took him to cross the bridge was so palpable that when he was done, there was a unanimous burst of applause in the audience.

One pleasant surprise that was unveiled during the beginning of the movie was that one of the riders, Nicky, was a woman, something that the movie didn’t make a big deal out of, in itself making it unique. Women riders are so rarely featured or represented in a positive way in the average motorcycling movie that her presence is one to make every woman in the audience who has ever donned a helmet silently cheer. (When quizzed on this by someone in the audience, the director responded that rural India has such an enduring culture of women doing the majority of the work that seeing a woman amongst the group passed without comment, as compared to reactions in more urban, westernized areas.)

To summarize, One Crazy Ride serves up everything that a truly good movie of the adventure motorcycling genre has to offer – good riding, challenging roads, quiet, cheerful camaraderie between the riders, tension and uncertainty brought on by mechanical breakdowns, interactions with people in lost,  remote villages and unique insights into their lives and culture. Almost every motorcycle rider who has gone off the beaten track will feel a kinship with our heroes along with many moments of – “I know exactly what they mean!”

One Crazy Ride: http://dirttrackproductions.com/ocr.html
Dirt Track Productions: http://dirttrackproductions.com/ocr.html
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkb4558ym5w

Review: The Road Racers

I just finished watching The Road Racers for the second time this week. Apparently it seems to be a little known movie as there are no reviews for it on that Amazon link, and a web search didn’t reveal anything from the title alone.

Nevertheless it is a brilliant watch – it is a short documentary about an unofficial racing team in Ireland called the Armoy Armada, consisting of Joey Dunlop, Mervyn Robinson and Frank Kennedy (that first name at least should be familiar). I can’t decide what I found most charming about it – the then superbikes roaring through the Irish backroads, the quiet, rural backdrop and the intimate look at these racers’ lives, or the thrilling clips of them in action on the road circuits. Now I don’t watch MotoGP that much, but those old races have something about them that makes modern racing seem so clinical and calculated. I was especially amused by the scenes in which both of Frank Kennedy’s hands are broken and in splints, and how he struggles to eat and drive and be normal. *ahem*

Sadly enough, both Frank and Mervyn died in high speed crashes in the space of a year. As did Joey Dunlop a few years ago, although he at least, got to live a little bit longer and enjoy his fame and glory.

Motorcycle movie reviews

The Great Escape: All I can wonder is why did I wait so long to see it?? It’s WW2 related plus it’s got motorcycles!! The movie is set in a WW2 prison camp where the prisoners (Allies – American + British) are treatly exceedingly well by the Commandant and German soldiers in the camp – a fact that just did not make sense to me throughout the movie. In hindsight I suppose it does make some sort of a twisted sense – the prisoners were POWs and not Jews. (It’s also a little sad to think of times of war when Americans were the good guys and looked up to by everyone as true heroes.) The Germans just want to sit the war out in the camp where it’s safe, while the Allied soldiers try their damndest to upset this idea by devising new and desperate ways to break out.

It’s a longer than average movie and inspite of the theme, it failed to hold my attention until Steve McQueen comes into the picture. Now here’s a man who personifies every Alistair MacLean hero I ever read about. He radiates charisma and I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the scenes in which he appears. As for his motorcycling scenes where he did practically every stunt (he even played the German soldiers chasing himself on motorcycles :P) except for that timeless scene of him jumping the 12 foot tall fence toward the end of the movie, all I could do was go omg omg omg OMG. I believe this is where the last traces of my fascination with cruisers fell away – no away could I do any of the things he did on a cruiser!! (I am now obsessed with dirt bikes and enduros).

If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, there is no excuse to not watch this classic. And Steve McQueen… now there’s a man I would drag back to my cave. :P

Faster: While On Any Sunday, a very similar movie, didn’t really do anything for me, this one had me watching from start to finish with a mixture of awe and envy as I saw the limits to which a human can push a motorcycle. I really need to start watching MotoGP one of these days. Out of all the racers shown, I must admit I am more of a Valentino Rossi fan – everybody likes a winner, right? And here’s where I consciously made the decision to get a new bike that would be track-worthy.

On a personal level, I also couldn’t rid myself of this underlying feeling of anger at the thought that here’s a world that will never be open for someone like me. I wonder how many talented female racers are denied the opportunity to break into this world due to lack of sponsorship. :| This is one of the biggest reasons why after 5+ years of being a rabid Formula1 follower, I finally quit watching. I think it all started in some F1 rag I was reading that did a story on Jarno Trulli’s wife – a racer in her own right, who quit after a few years of trying to get a break. The writer of the article said something on the lines of – “she finally accepted that racing was a man’s world and there was no place in it for her”. And no, the writer wasn’t angry on her behalf, rather he was applauding her sensible decision to quit and settle down and be a good little wife.

The movie was splendid though, even if it was more of a documentary of sorts.

Long Way Round: I had expected this one to be a movie, but it turned out to be a reality tv show type thing, with Ewan McGregor and his buddy Charlie Boorman riding around the world on their motorcycles – starting from England, going through Europe, Russia, Mongolia, Canada, Alaska and finally winding up in New York. Unlike Faster, this one at least is something most of us motorcyclists can dream of doing somewhere during our lifetimes. You get to see past Ewan McGregor the moviestar and see the Ordinary Joe/Jill who gets giddy about motorcycles and is happiest in his saddle, going through strange places and meeting new people.

My respect for Ewan went up tenfold after watching this – he is so exceedingly funny and giggly, making fun of himself and his experiences and engaging the viewer every step of the way. He makes you giggle along with him and lays to waste the macho male testerone-laden image that the word motorcyclist usually invokes. Not to mention that he also makes a full beard and thick, black rimmed geek glasses look sexy. :P Oh, and I’m pretty sure that he’s read at least a fraction of the tomes of slash featuring him, seeing as there are references galore to the man-love between him and Charlie. I didn’t even have to read between this lines this time. :P

I was a bit disappointed to see that they had a big-budget backup crew help them across some of the stickier areas. I also wonder, why on earth would a guy like him want a FREE MOTORCYCLE from BMW?

Another plus of watching this – you will never again feel bad about dropping your bike. If Ewan can do it inspite of a TV audience watching, there is no shame in doing it yourself occassionally. Oh, and I finally learnt the correct way of getting onto a bike that has a huge pack strapped to the back – and trying to swing your leg over it is not it. :P

To summarize, I loved this entire series, until the part where they got to America, where it suddenly became much less exciting, and more of going through the motions to finish. In any case, watch this!