UKGFF 2015: Bikes vs Cars Review


Over the next few weeks, FILM IN WORDS will be taking a special look at the 2015 UK Green Film Festival, showcasing and reviewing this year’s stellar lineup of thematically potent, visually arresting and environmentally focused films. We hope you can come along for the ride…


Words: Brody Rossiter
Twitter: @BrodyRossiter


So often when it comes to film that carries a social, political, or in this case environmental message at its core, especially pictures belonging to the documentary genre, the many elements and constructs of filmmaking can begin to feel secondary to the presentation of information. The tales, findings, and conclusions may remain hard-hitting and poignant, but nevertheless, the final cinematic results can often prove to be an imbalanced and ugly sum of unequal parts.

Bikes vs Cars presents several episodic segments following both cyclists and drivers through their daily routines, and particularly their commutes. Beginning by jumping back and forth between two of the world’s most traffic heavy cities, Sao Paulo and Los Angeles, the picture reveals the past, present and possible futures – both good and bad – of increasing levels of automobile and bike travel.

The informative and historical Los Angeles based sections explore how the motor industry’s petrol-heads cherry-picked the west coast as the canvas for their new vision of an American motoring dream of the early twentieth century – which has today led to a daily nightmare for those braving the packed roads. The depictions of Sao Paulo present a much more emotionally driven presentation of the life of a cyclist, lamenting the tragic loss of fallen riders and the burgeoning community of cyclists that long for a more European model of inner-city travel to be adopted by their heavily polluted and gridlocked city.

The segue into Copenhagen’s bicycle heavy population, and a disgruntled taxi driver working in a city overrun with cyclists, is a stark and surprisingly terrifying depiction of what happens when cars are in the minority, and travelling via bike is wholeheartedly encouraged.

The case study of Toronto highlights issues of commuter transportation and how the vow to end “the war on cars” helped the now disgraced Mayor Rob Ford win the 2010 mayoral election by a landslide. He did away with car registration fees, and axed public transportation proposals – earning a vast swathe of suburban, car owners’ votes in the process. Not only did Rob Ford remove bike lanes and demonise cyclists, but he cost the Canadian city tens-of-millions of dollars in the process and further eroded the opportunity to reduce the number of pedestrians and cyclist killed in the city every day.

Several more cities are explored through the journeys of their cyclists, and while thematically the film travels similar ground throughout, every episodic passage is aesthetically unique and overflowing with unique global personalities. The manner in which the film presents so many contrasting issues that contribute to our relationship with cars – and our reluctance to relinquish them – whether that is the symbolism attached to owning a car (reinforced by advertising and social class attributes) or stigmas that plague public transport – Bikes vs Cars’ narrative is constantly evolving and folding new highly engaging anecdotes and warnings into its many layers of information. The picture chugs along with a constant and powerful sense of unrest that not only exposes but offers solutions to jaded attitudes, corporate glad-handing, and the smog of corruption that fuels the unending introduction of cars into the world’s cities.

The message at the core of Bikes vs Cars is eloquent and forceful, yet it is also highly accomplished when it comes to those aforementioned stylistic elements of filmmaking that are so easily left playing catch-up to the field studies. It is a striking, poignant, wonderfully scored and elegantly constructed documentary that not only analyses the impact how you plan on getting to work tomorrow morning, but the lifestyle paradigms that shape our very existence upon this planet.


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