The Green Film Festival and Bikes vs. Cars

I’m not going to attend this year’s Green Film Festival. It runs simultaneously with the biggest and best cinematic orgy of the year–the Silent Film Festival. True, Green runs for an additional two days after Silent, but I won’t be in movie-going shape by then.

Besides, I’m a bit off-put by what I call advocacy film festivals. I really don’t want to be lectured to by every film in a festival, even if I agree with the lecture.

But as someone who never drives a car when I can ride a bicycle, I thought I would preview the opening film, Bikes vs. Cars. The documentary isn’t perfect, but the subject is very close to my heart. I give a B.


Director Fredrik Gertten follows various bicycle advocates in various cities around the world, concentrating on two large, horribly auto-centric metropolitan areas–Sao Paulo and my native town, Los Angeles. The activists talk both on camera and off, discussing congestion, pollution, bad urban design, and the economic/political forces that emphasize automobiles over common sense. We also visit exceptionally bike-friendly cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

Gertten makes good use of small, HD video cameras that can be mounted on helmets and handlebars.

Although I wouldn’t call this an unbiased film, Gertten gives pro-car people a chance to offer their side of the story. A cab driver complains traffic problems caused by bikes (would he be happier if all of those cyclists were driving cars?). The most colorful car promoter in the film is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who removed bike lanes and tore up streetcar tracks in his efforts to heat up the planet. Oddly, no one mentions his crack cocaine issues.

But the film concentrates on its pro-bike heroes. It gets repetitious in the second half, as you hear the same arguments over and over again. Things pick up a bit for the optimistic ending.

Bikes vs. Cars screens at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on Thursday, May 28, at 6:00–opening night of the festival.