Bike Film Fest rolls through Chicago

By JeffGraveline

When the 9th Annual Bicycle Film Festival hit Chicago Aug. 12-16, it was a showcase of movies featuring bikes and their riders, with parties and festivities lighting up the town throughout the week.

The tour is scheduled to hit 39 cities around the world and is expected to draw in 250,000 attendees, according to the festival’s website,

The film fest kicked off on Aug. 12 with a showing of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

The Pee-Wee Herman flick was shown in a grassy lot at Evergreen Street, between Washtenaw Avenue and Rockwell Street in Humboldt Park. The film was picked by event staff and Andrew Haala, Chicago producer for the Bicycle Film Festival.

“We had the normal Bicycle Film Festival films, which are supplied by the New York office,” Haala said. “To kick it all off, though, we went with that [Pee Wee’s Big Adventure]. It was a really great turnout and people really seemed to enjoy that.”

The second day of the festival was Bikes Rock day with musical acts Mike Simonetti, Busdriver and Glass Candy performing a show at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St.

Day two also featured A Shot of Lake Michigan Scavenger Hunt that started at Union Park in the evening. The scavenger hunt was a checkpoint-based event that had teams clad in helmets and racing jerseys with messenger bags riding to various city parks.

Checkpoint activites included cutting team members’ hair, attacking other teams with water guns and taking an actual shot of water from Lake Michigan.

While the scavenger hunt took place, the Joy Ride Art Show occurred at the MCA Warehouse, 1747 W. Hubbard St., featuring artwork of bikes and their riders.

The actual film portion of the festival began on its third day,  Aug. 14.  All films were shown at Columbia’s 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

On day three, two programs were presented. One included the film Where are you go?, a 60-minute showcase of the Tour d’Afrique, the world’s longest bike race/expedition held annually in Africa since 2003. Program two was a series of bike-related short films, ranging from four to 22 minutes in length.

Day four, Aug. 15, featured bike films from 3 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Running until 9 p.m.  were the feature-length films The Third Wheel, Keirin Queen/Onna Keirin Oh, a Japanese film being screened in the U.S. for the first time and I Love My Bicycle: The Story of FBM Bikes.

A set of short films entitled Urban Bike Shorts finished the film portion of the festival.

A block party held behind the Skylark Lounge, 2149 S. Halsted St., wrapped up the festival on  Aug.  16. With a blocked off street, a ramp and rooftop grill, the block party sent the film festival out on a high note.

“I’ve been out here all weekend; [the block party] is kind of like the [be-all], end-all thing now,” said Eleanor Blick, a senior journalism major at Columbia, who has been biking since she was a child.

The block party opened with a flatland demonstration in which riders spun, climbed and jumped on their bikes while riding on the pegs or handlebars.  As a crowd gathered to watch riders do their best to impress each other,  it began to rain, forcing the riders under the Kennedy Expressway overpass.  However, the riders kept on going, continuing on a loading dock and keeping their free-flowing session intact.

While the flatlanders showed off their skills under the overpass, the mechanic build-off began. Six brave mechanics toughed it out through the downpour, fixing bikes that had a multitude of problems. The mechanics had only one hour to make as many repairs as possible, including fixing break lines, gear shifters and flat tires.

“We had the BMX flatland jam and then the mechanic build-off in the rain,” Haala said. “That rain just kind of added to the flavor of the whole thing.”

As the rain slowed to a steady drizzle and time wound down, the mechanics hit high gear. When the timer hit zero and everyone finished, the bikes were judged on the skill of the repairs performed. When the results came back it, was 26-year-old Emily Willobee of Chicago,  who had won 1st place.

“I was really excited to do [the build-off] this year. I just really wanted it,” said Willobee, who was also part of the winning team during the A Shot of Lake Michigan Scavenger Hunt.

With the block party ending and his duties as Chicago producer of the Bike Film Festival wrapping up, Haala took a moment to reflect back on his hard work for the festival and look ahead to upcoming biking events, including the return of Alleycat Racing to Chicago.

Alleycats, informal races organized by bike messengers, were held in Chicago before, but due to the death of a rider during an Alleycat on Feb. 24, 2008, the races took a break.

“In the next couple weeks, we have a couple Alleycats coming back into Chicago after a bit of a break because of the death of a rider,” Haala said. “They’re originally[bike]messenger-organized races. Now it’s more about a test of skills for everyone.”