Directed by: #RyanHenryMekenian
Short Film Review by: #ChrisBuick
In the early 1900s, the humble bicycle was one of the most prominent modes of transportation for LA citizens, which when coupled with what was then one of the most extensive street car systems anywhere in the world, transformed the City of Angels into a “public transportation mecca”
Now, over a hundred years on thanks to the invasion of the modern-day freeway, Angelenos find themselves living in one of the world’s leading cities in terms of traffic, pollution and road accidents, the bicycle and street car having since been overtaken both figuratively and literally by the ever-increasing presence of the motorcar, with bikes and their riders now having to fight harder and harder not just for their place on the road, but their safety on it as well.
Here to help champion the cause of the two-wheeled marvel is award-winning documentary Spokespeople by #filmmaker Ryan Henry which manages to find a perfect balance between earnest celebration of the freedom-giving machine while equally highlighting the miles still to be travelled in order for cyclists and their communities to feel safe and respected on the road.
Henry’s film delivers in a simple yet extremely effective way, letting his talking heads do the talking and allowing their passions and personalities to drive home the film’s important messages. We hear from people running “bike kitchens”, places that teach those new to the bike more about their new friends and how to care for them, as well as founders of some of LA’s popular cyclist enthusiast groups, all equally advocating the mental and physical benefits that come from cycling as part of the films aforementioned celebration of the hobby which becomes so infectious, it makes you want to immediately get out your bike, dust it off and go for a ride.
But at the same time, we find these same people sadly lamenting the dangerous animosity or just sheer, blatant ignorance for their kind, not just from those behind the wheels of more and more cars, but also the lawmakers seemingly unwilling to do anything about the dangers these LA cyclists face. Footage of packed, bumper-to-bumper LA streets, shocking first-person camera footage of grimace-worthy near-misses and eye-widening statistics (approximately only 0.2% of LA roads have dedicated cycle lanes) spread throughout the film all help emphasise these points but what is important and remarkable is that the film never at any point feels like a lecture, yet is always stern enough to never lose the gravitas of the very pertinent point it’s trying to make.
What helps tie the whole film together and gives it a central narrative to navigate around is the tragic story of Frederick "Woon" Frazier, a cyclist needlessly knocked down and killed, leaving behind a son and a mother, due to an abhorrent lack of adequate infrastructure and cycle lanes simple enough to implement in order to protect riders from the dangers around them. It's a story that is never laboured or drawn out in order to try and provoke sympathy, but in fact is handled as tenderly and respectfully it should be without ever letting it lose its potency as a tale of caution.
Spokespeople not only puts the modern-day bicycle on pedal-stal, awakening some long-forgotten childlike joy of freedom they can bring, but also brilliantly celebrates these LA riders and indeed an ever-growing community of cyclists all over the world that aren’t asking for dominance of the roadways, but simply parity on them.
Watch the trailer for Spokespeople here: