Making the World Go Round ["With My Own Two Wheels"]
Crucial initiatives on big fronts will never overshadow symbolic and practical efforts on small fronts.
“With My Own Two Wheels” peddles bicycles as its central theme, without ever ringing the bike-instead-of-drive bell. It would be difficult to find a film with richer optimistic and tactical content.
In five segments from around the world, underserved people leverage the low-tech empowerment of bicycles. In Africa, an AIDS counselor can reach many more clients when he is provided his own two wheels. In India, girls given bicycles can bridge physical and cultural distance to attend high school. In Guatemala, a local group converts bikes into inexpensive machines that speed the processing of coffee or corn. In Santa Barbara, California, in the U. S. of affluent A, an at-risk Chicano finds expanded horizons as a bike mechanic serving working-class riders.
The inspiration soars especially to see African men relying on a woman, relying on a cripple, because she fixes their bicycles. She shows others how to fix bicycles. This African woman on crutches earns a living, earns respect, and helps turn the wheels of her community.
While the filmmaking of “With Our Own Two Wheels” feels a bit stretched out, the intelligence and heart and example in this film embraces a scale of human positivity that needs lots more screen time.
Chuck Jaffee, of Nevada City, likes to plug people into the spirit of independent filmmakers. Find his film festival and other articles for The Union at www.startlets.com.
---- Q and A with “With My Own Two Wheels” filmmaker, Isaac Seigel-Boettner ----
Chuck Jaffee: Did you have a bicycle theme in mind as a starting point? Did you end up anywhere along the way you didn’t expect?
Isaac Seigel-Beottner: The whole film actually started out with the idea of the power of the bike. When my brother told me the movie idea, it seemed so abstract at first. As we came across different stories of individuals and their bikes, it started to become clear that there was an abundance of stories of pedal-driven empowerment around the globe. From that point on we just followed the tire marks wherever they took us.
CJ: The bicycle people in this film are not about bicycling versus driving. What did it feel like being exposed to people whose third world lives were substantially upscaled by their involvement with bicycles?
ISB: In the developing world bicycling is often compared not to driving, but to foot travel. People will walk long distances without second thought because they don't have any other options. It was amazing to see the power that such a simple machine can have for someone who is accustomed to traveling by foot.
CJ: How did you find the people whose stories you told?
ISB: We wanted to show the global potential of the bicycle, so we searched for stories from all around the world. To find the individual characters, we first contacted non-governmental organizations (NGO) that use the bike as a tool for development. We asked them to identify an individual who they thought best represented the work that they did as an organization. We definitely couldn't have assembled the stories in “With My Own Two Wheels” without their assistance and guidance.
CJ: How does your involvement in these rather small, very personal stories connect you to huge, daunting problems like climate change or corporate consolidation of power and exploitation?
ISB: Many social justice documentaries begin with a problem. We started with a solution: the bike. We knew, first-hand, the power of two wheels. My brother Jacob and I were both brought home from the hospital in bike trailers. Growing up, we were fortunate enough to explore the world on two wheels with our parents. “For With My Own Two Wheels,” we set out to find what global problems the bike could address, and came back with some great stories. The large problems you mentioned require massive organized efforts to be solved. At the same time, we need small simple interventions – like the bike – that have profound affects on such problems on a much more personal scale.
CJ: How do you see your lives unfolding as filmmakers?
ISB: I honestly didn't think I'd be making films at this point in my life. I studied film in college because I enjoyed it. I had always thought making rent as a filmmaker outside of Hollywood would be impossible. I'm very happy to get the chance to make films that I'm passionate about and will continue doing so until there isn't another story I'm excited to tell. My brother and I are currently at work on our next project about a bunch of students competing in the NorCal High School Mountain Bike League. After growing up watching films and attending festivals, I got very frustrated by the heart wrenching documentary that leaves you feeling powerless and unable to help. I'd like to continue making films that flip the problem-solution storytelling framework on its head.