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Q+A: Ayleen Crotty, Filmed by Bike Film Festival director and founder

People gather outside a theater in Portland for the Filmed by Bike Film Festival

Filmed By Bike at the Hollywood Theatre. | Photo via Filmed By Bike

Portland is gearing up for the return of summer festivities, including the 20th anniversary of the Filmed by Bike Film Festival — an in-person and virtual event celebrating bike films created locally + around the globe. This year, the Hollywood Theatre will screen 50 films from June 9-12, including five short films funded by the new Filmed by Bike BIPOC Filmmaker Grant.

We met with Ayleen Crotty, the founder and festival director of Filmed by Bike, to learn what you can expect from this year’s festival. Spoiler alert: you don’t need to be a bicyclist to enjoy the films.

Q: How did Filmed by Bike begin?

A: We got started in Portland back in 2003 and we were focused on being a film festival for the Portland community. But now our film collections also travel the world, visiting cities year-round to help galvanize and strengthen bike communities in other areas as well.

I’ve been with the festival since the very beginning — I come from an experiential arts background, as well as an event management background, and I absolutely love building bike community. So Filmed by Bike really is my true passion project that brings together those three elements into something that I consider my life’s work as an artist.

Q: How did the festival change during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: It was really interesting for us during the pandemic. First, at the very beginning of lockdown, people started to become more isolated and homebound, we recognized that the cycling community — which is a very social community — the cycling community across the globe was going to feel isolated and alone. And this was a time when we weren’t even yet sure if we could ride bikes together, nobody knew what was safe. So immediately, we saw that the bicycle industry as a whole globally was not taking any forward action to be there for the cycling community, so we felt that it was a great opportunity for us and really, we felt a responsibility to share our content, share our archive, share our history of bicycle movies and our knowledge and our connections and go online. We unearthed an old YouTube channel we hadn’t used in years, we learned live streaming, and we started going online every week to offer comfort and solace to the bicycle community in a way that really spoke to them, not just as people suffering through the pandemic and in the worries of lockdown, but as cyclists and as a global community. It was really beautiful because it allowed us to reach our fans and followers and connections we have developed all throughout the world, as well as our audience here in Portland. And then when it came time for the actual festival, we ran the entire festival online for two years. It was really special to be able to invite onto the virtual stage filmmakers who wouldn’t be able to attend Filmed by Bike otherwise, and people who didn’t have a Filmed by Bike event in their city could feel a part of the festival.

All that was great and we loved it so much, but at the same time, as we move into our 20th anniversary, oh my gosh, we are so excited to be back at the Hollywood Theatre — to be back in person in Portland with our local cycling community. Now this year, because of all that excitement online throughout the last two years, and that special audience that we’ve developed and those connections we’ve made, we will be running a virtual offering this year as well. I feel like that’s an amazing silver lining of the pandemic is that we realize this opportunity — not just Filmed by Bike, but all these different organizations and events and entities — are realizing the power of virtual. In-person is very special and we’ll never let that go, but for those folks who don’t live here, who can’t make it here, we can still share this incredible experience with them through an online offering.

Q: How is Filmed by Bike highlighting BIPOC filmmakers this year?

A: We spend eight months out of the year scouring the internet and developing our relationships with filmmakers who live in all parts of the world, and we’ve been at this for 20 years. Every year we dig harder, we look further, we talk to more people. But then when we go to review those films submissions, we’re always surprised at the lack of diversity on screen and we know that it’s not because we’re not looking hard enough, because again, we’re spending eight months out of the year looking for those films and developing those relationships with filmmakers.

We realized that if we wanted to see a change happen, we need to do something about it.

So in 2020, we launched our own grant fund, which is the BIPOC Filmmaker Grant presented by Machines for Freedom — they’re a company in the bicycle industry that really stands behind everything we’re doing — and we launched this. The first year, we put out our call for grant applications and we were overwhelmed with more than 100 applications and we had funding for three. We worked with an amazing advisory team who brought a lot of expertise on diversity, equity, inclusion, cycling, culture, and film and we got this team together to review applications and select our finalists in that first round. We were so impressed by all the applications.

So now we’ve gone through two rounds of funding, we did two quick rounds in our first year-and-a-half, and we’re ready to finally debut five grant-funded films that were made possible through our own grant program. We’ll be debuting those at the festival this year.

We’re accepting applications through June 15 for the next round of funding. So this is a really robust, ongoing grant fund. It is crowd-funded, so regular folks who love bikes and love film and love making a difference are contributing. That’s what’s allowing this program to continue. We hope to see this grant fund continue well into the future, we hope there’s a day when we no longer need this type of a grant fund because there’s more equity in grant funding or funding in general for films. But in the meantime, we’re here to do our small part and make a difference.

What I find so interesting about this is it’s not just about getting more representation, but it’s about this opportunity for stories that haven’t been told in the way they’re being told. One of the films that we will be debuting this year is called “As We Have Always Done” by a filmmaker named Kiki Ong out of Santa Cruz. I’ve been in the bike industry since the 90s, and I love all the films we’ve shown at Filmed by Bike, but this film by Kiki is like no other film I’ve ever seen before. The way the topic is being discussed, the way she does her stop-animation collage work throughout, the way the story is woven together, what’s being talked about — everything about this film wows me every time I watch it. I just think, well, that is why we have this grant fund because this is a story that may not have been told otherwise.

Funding is such a huge barrier in creating and producing films, and that barrier is even more imposing for people of color. So this is just one example of how when we open that door a little wider and bring more people into the fold, magic can happen and stories can get told that many of us would have never experienced otherwise.

The films this year are just stunning. They’re powerful. They’re emotional, and it’s just an incredible collection this year.

Q: Do you think people who aren’t part of the bicycle community will enjoy the films at the festival?

A: Yes, absolutely, these films appeal to a broad swath of folks. We assemble a jury every year with regular folks, that’s our goal — regular people who love bikes, who love film, as well as some experts in those arenas as well. Our jury helps wade through all the film’s submissions, grade them, and make those final selections of what gets declared the “world’s best bike movie.” So we know we have a broad variety of opinions. Some people rate films very high, that same film — very low from someone else, and then our team gets to work sorting that all out. But our goal is to provide a collection of movies that all sorts of folks can enjoy.

When you’re in the theater, and the lights are down, you have no idea sometimes who you’re sitting next to, but people from all walks of life will be laughing at the same funny moments, crying at the same sentimental moments, and it’s really this powerful opportunity for a shared space of arts and culture that can really delight people and bring people together.

Q: What does the future hold for the festival?

A: I don’t think this festival could have formed in the way that it did and grown to be where it is today if it weren’t for being here in Portland. In the early 2000s, Portland was a city — and in many ways, it still is — but it was a city that said, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? Give it a try and see.’ And there was this can-do spirit, this try-anything creativity. It’s why we have crazy donuts, it’s why we have food trucks everywhere. I mean, Portland is such an innovator in that regard and we truly feel like the city of Portland stood behind us every step of the way when we had this crazy idea for a bicycle-themed film festival when barely anyone was riding bikes in Portland, when everything was so new back then.

We’re so excited to celebrate the 20th anniversary and really honor the history of Portland, honor our bicycle culture history, as well as celebrate what’s coming next. What we’re really excited about what’s coming next in the bicycle culture is that we’re seeing all sorts of new faces and people that are stepping into positions of power, that are having the spotlight shined on them, that are leading rides, forming new rides. And there’s just this new culture that’s way more inclusive than it was when we got started. Very vibrant and exciting with lots of different options, no matter what style of riding people like, there are opportunities to ride with others. We really love that about what’s happening.

We also like what we’re seeing across the globe and we like knowing that we can play a part in helping shape how other cities grow their bicycle culture and make it more inclusive by sharing our film collections through our Filmed by Bike tour program. There’ll be tour shows happening every month, all throughout the United States in particular, as well as other parts of the world. We’re really looking forward to weaving this year’s film collection into that tour program so we can export just a little bit of Portland culture and inspire other cities to grow their bike communities to be as exciting and vibrant as the Portland bike community is.

Q: What is your personal favorite thing about biking?

A: There are so many things I love about biking. One aspect, of course, is the mental clarity and vibrancy my body feels when I bike — my head is clear, my body feels strong, I love all of that. But I also love the little moments, the things that are a little bit harder to pinpoint. Whether it’s riding alongside a friend and having a conversation. Conversations by bike are very different than conversations when you sit next to somebody in a cafe or something like that. So chatting and riding, love it. I also love the way I can see the world around me and experience the world around me — to smell the flowers, to wave at somebody as I passed by, to watch people working in their yard, all those little details that are harder to experience when tucked inside of a car. The world feels more open to me when I’m on my bike, and I absolutely love that and being fully immersed in the world around me.

Q: Is there a new way people can access the festival this year?
A: This year, we’ve launched a new way to experience Filmed by Bike, it’s called our Golden Pass, and it’s in celebration of our 20th anniversary, as well as to support our BIPOC Filmmaker Grant fund. By buying a Golden Pass, people are automatically making a donation to our BIPOC Filmmaker Grant fund. This Golden Pass will grant people access to all events in showtimes with guaranteed entry, even if shows are going to sell out. And it also includes an invitation to our festival team wrap party — it’s a chance to meet the folks behind Filmed by Bike, find out more about what we do, why we do it, what we loved about the season, and to be able to talk about the movies afterward, and the whole experience afterward. I think it’s going to be a really special experience, to be able to bring that core audience together.

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