The dim heart of the Regency Theater swirls with energy as over one hundred mountain bikers greet each other in anticipation. The food and beer lines stretch along the back wall. Mountain bikers oogle raffle prizes including day-passes from Highland Mountain Bike Park, bike care-kits from Pedros, Two Fox suspension forks, CrossMax wheel-sets from Mavic and Back Bay Bicycles, and the Grand Prize, a Kona Tanuki mountain bike.
This is the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) Mountain Bike Film Festival and the anticipation isn’t just for the Red Bones BBQ or the beer donated by Harpoon Brewery–or even the prizes–it’s for the films. While screenings of big name films happen all over the country, this is one of the few that celebrate the making of mountain bike films at the amateur level. These are videos made by mountain bikers about their own rides and adventures.
Soon, the lights go dark and the films begin to tick off one by one. They are all short (rules require under 5 minutes, but most are under 3.) They all have limited production quality. They each shake, wobble and tilt in vertiginous ways. But what these films lack in production, they more than make up for in passion. As I watch beginner XC riders skitter through singletrack turns and freeriders send-it off dirt kickers, I realize that picking one to be the “People’s Choice” was going to be a contentious event.
Mike Feeney produced a couple of hard-charging freeride videos that not only included hucking decent-sized jumps and ripping scary ladder bridges at Highland MBP, but also rednecks jumping ATVs and starting a snowmobile on fire. “Badassalon 2008″ and “I Didn’t Pump My Tire” head up the humorous entries with pellet rifles and a remake of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Marsha MacEachern’s “A Biker’s Playground” is a surprisingly emotional romp through the woods (and a lake.) I am surprised to see an animated feature, but Bryan McFarland put one together with some chill music. There is also an iPhone entry that has some of the best composed visuals in the festival. Two high school kids put together a strong contender for the People’s Choice award filming their mountain biking class riding homemade stunts. It is “One Speed Jasper” that barely edges out the other films for People’s Choice, however. This film used the GoPro HD camera famous for helmet-cam shots in so many adventure movies. Of course, the camera ended up attached to the usual places on the bike: helmet, rider’s chest and seatpost. What really made this film shine was that the subject wasn’t just the ride, but also the faithful mountain bike companion: the “trail dog.” In the true GoPro fashion of showing things from “your point of view,” the camera was attached to Jasper the Dog for a trail-dog’s-eye-view of a run through the woods chasing a bike. THIS is what makes amateur film shine. The footage shook like “Blair Witch Project” but it focused on a valuable part of mountain biking that often gets overlooked by the large production films.
After watching Highland Mountain Bike Park’s GnarEast film winner, a good film that centered around the central “story” of the park and ride bus that shuttles riders in to Highland from surrounding towns, they announced the raffle winners. Not everyone left with a Kona mountain bike or set of Mavics, but, I think it’s fair to say, we all left with a greater appreciation for mountain biking, whether it’s the camaraderie of riders gathering in the dead of winter, the glimpse into where video will be taking us in the future or the passion for riding that made these films happen.