The scene – a mass cycle ride in the Czech capital, Prague. I’m filming from the back seat of a cargo bike as other participants ride along with me. Suddenly one cyclist comes up to the camera. He recognises me from the screening of our film a few days ago in a city centre cinema.
“Maybe next time in Darlington”, he declares with a strong continental accent and a broad grin on his face. The thought of these 4,000 or so cyclists riding through our small town certainly stirs the soul.
Taking Darlington Media Group’s iconic film about stylish cycling, shot in the north east town and in Bremen, Germany, around Europe, has been a humbling experience. since it’s premiere in December 2009, the film has been screened in towns and cities around the world, from New Zealand to Canada with a fair chunk of Europe in between. It has been translated into Spanish, German, Portuguese and Czech. It’s YouTube site has now had over 100,000 views.
Every week there seems to be another screening being organised by local cycling advocates, conference organisers or transport experts. Last week was the Newcastle Bicycle Festival. Next week it will be the Cheltenham Cycling Campaign. Outdoor public screenings have been organised in Australia and Berlin, activists in Vancouver organised a screening of the film for local councillors, whilst others in New Zealand showed the film to the country’s Green Party. Transition Towns, a worldwide community project which aims to equip towns with the means to deal with climate change and peak oil, have introduced transport solutions via the film.
Interestingly, this global enthusiasm for the Darlington film is very much grass roots. It’s message is perhaps too honest – it identifies both the joy of fashionable cycling and the lamentably inadequate cycle infrastructure that such cyclists are expected to tolerate – for official establishment agencies, whose primary media approach requires spin and marketing. A glance at the project’s Facebook page reveals the global reach that Beauty and the Bike has achieved, and the kinds of grass roots groups that connect with it’s message. The world is indeed a global village.
Beauty and the Bike has not made it to many mainstream film festivals. But in October it won the public prize for best film at the distinctly grassroots 2011 International Cycling Film Festival in Germany. The festival is organised by local cycling activists in and around the German Ruhr Valley, an area not particularly renowned for the quality of its cycling infrastructure.
The core work of the Media Group continues to be to provide low cost access to media facilities and skills for the people of Darlington, and with over 25,000 visits in the last year it has never been as effective as it is today. Perhaps the worldwide recognition afforded to Beauty and the Bike will inspire some of these future film-makers.