Brendt Barbur is the founder and the director of the Bike Film Festival (BFF), a celebration of the bicycle through music, art, and film, which is held in 39 cities worldwide every year. Nine years after the first festival in New York, he remains as enthusiastic and continues to promote the use of the bicycle in an artistic way, insisting that you have to have fun in order to get alternative ideas to catch on.
How and why did you start the first BFF?
I have no idea why! For sure one turning point was when I was hit by a bus in New York 10 years ago. I also got arrested at a Critical Mass ride around the same time, so I really wanted to do something positive for the bike culture.
I decided to use the medium of a film festival. Events centered around bike culture was not necessarily an original idea, as some people were already doing it for a long time, but the Bicycle Film Festival attracted many people from different backgrounds who were really enthusiastic by this idea. Mostly the artistic community of New York committed themselves to the project and we made our first festival in the city 9 years ago. It proved to be a success and it was obvious that people were really into it.
Did you expect such success nine years later? How did it spread to so many cities?
From the beginning I was quite ambitious about the event in New York, but I never imagined it would spread to 39 cities.
Now we have a team based in New York and we work from there like a web to other festivals, as a kind of franchise. We are like a big family, most of the teams have been working with the festival for a long time and are great friends of mine, others are new to me this year but our relationship is strong. I do the film programming for each city, so it’s not that they use our name and we send movies over; it is a real collaboration between the homebase in New York and the various teams worldwide.
Do you get some help from cycling activist groups?
We try to work with bicycle organisations and support them. For instance the San Francisco Bike Coalition provides parking for bicycles and we give them a bunch of free tickets. Activists have their role to play, but we also try to get artists and other organisations involved in the festival – it’s an urban-cultural event first.
How about the impact of BFF? What is your main aim?
Our main objective is of course to promote bikes for everyday life and hopefully we can inspire people to do so, but we also want to have a good time. Many people face obstacles allowing them to use their bicycles everyday and change will take time.
One of the biggest problems is infrastructure: I have to ride to work with a suit; is there a shower? Is there a place to park my bike? Is it safe to ride to work? For instance, in New York many people are frankly too afraid to ride to work, but there is mass transit there that takes people out of their cars. Another problem concerns lifestyles. In the western world in particular, we have many kinds of mass advertising telling us that to get from A to B you have to drive a car. Car culture is strongly implemented in our minds, and we’ve got to break out of that.
What is your take on the carfree movement?
On a personal level, I support the carfree movement. I’m really excited to see what’s happening in New York: some major streets are being turned into public spaces. We would never have thought that Times Square would close to cars, and that we’d be able to sit down in the middle.
What are your hopes for the future of transportation?
The car has changed the way people live and is strongly connected with consumer society. It creates many problems like urban sprawl and affects social relations. Therefore, I really hope that bicycles can change the way people live, the way our cities are built, and the way people interact with their communities. I believe the bicycle can help to give more spontaneity in our social relations and to give a new face to our cities.
By Marko Thull