Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
In 2001, New Yorker Brendt Barbur was hit by a car while riding his bike in the city. During his stay in the hospital, the finance professional came up with the idea to start a film festival. The submissions could be all about bicycles, from any creative perspective, he reasoned, with the aim to make the world a safer place for those who can't get enough of life on two wheels.
Later that year, he rented a movie theatre to screen the work of a small group of enthusiastic contributors. More than a decade later, the festival has expanded, with films, exhibitions and events making appearances in more than 20 cities the world over, from Athens to Vienna.
Now, for the first time, the Bicycle Film Festival is making a pit stop in Hong Kong –from 10 to 13 January – and avid cyclist Brian Fu is the reason why. Though the Hong Kong native works for a small chain of Japanese cafes by day, bikes are his true love, nurtured during a decade-long stint in the US. Upon repatriation in 1993, he brought his passion back to his hometown.
Though Fu was eager to host the festival, it was a pipe dream for five years because the cost of renting out a venue was just too high. Plus, cycling culture in Hong Kong -– at least when it comes to purposeful transportation, rather than a leisurely weekend pedal – is nascent at best. "Hong Kong people grow up to be scared of cars because the streets are so narrow, and they're not brave enough to ride a bike around urban areas," Fu explained. "They'll do it for exercise, or they'll do it for fun. It is getting better."
But thanks to the Hong Kong Arts Centre in Hong Kong's Wan Chai neighbourhood, Fu finally found an affordable, centrally-located spot to host the festival.
Comprising of mostly new short films, their provenance ranging from the US to Estonia, Japan and New Zealand, the movies (running from 11 to 13 January) have been sorted into six screening groups, ranging from disparate works tied together by the theme of cycling to a documentary-style tale of the late Swiss cyclist Bruno Risi. Other highlights include a 2010 short, Mark on Allen by director Spike Jonze, which chronicles what happens when one of the world's best professional skateboarders tries to master riding a bicycle.
In addition, the Arts Centre will play host to two exhibitions, one of cycling-related photography; the other of local collectors' rare and vintage bikes, which both run till 25 January.
The line-up of events also includes – both on 13 January – an auction and raffle of cycling and skateboarding paraphernalia whose proceeds benefit Orbis, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about eye care and fighting preventable blindness, and a communal 12km "fun ride" – with special guest Barbur from the Hong Kong Film Archive. The ride will begin in the Sai Wan Ho area and end at arts space/basement club XXX Gallery in the Sheung Wan neighbourhood.
As well as attracting local film buffs, Fu's goal is to keep raising the profile of biking in Hong Kong. He's set a precedent with such past events as an Alley Cat Race in August 2012, where participants act like bike couriers and see who can cycle the fastest through 10 assigned checkpoints, as well as a December 2011 Goldsprint race, in which competitors pedal furiously on stationery bikes for 500m to gain victory.
"I know it's a big risk to do this, but I still want to try to spread the cycling culture to the Hong Kong people," Fu said. "I think it will take a long time for local people [to grasp] that biking can be a form of transportation – maybe until the gas is too expensive to buy."
Tickets to each screening group are 75 Hong Kong dollars and can be bought from Hong Kong booking agent Urbtix. The exhibitions are free, as is the communal ride, but since the deadline has passed to enter, pick a spot along the route to cheer or meet the cyclists afterwards at XXX Gallery (B/F, 212 Wing Lok Street, Sheung Wan) for the charity event.
Hana R Alberts is the Hong Kong Localite for BBC Travel