'Bikes vs. Cars': Film Review

Courtesy of SXSW
Earnest doc ignores much of the transportation dilemma.

No, it's not a 'Fury Road' sequel.

After taking on multinational agribusiness in his doc Bananas!* and chronicling the heat he drew from that in a sequel documentary, Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten turns in Bikes vs. Cars to an issue that in some respects is almost comically uncontroversial: Can there be any festivalgoer who doubts what side of this battle Gertten's film will deem more righteous? Though armed with some eyebrow-raising stats and sympathetic subjects, the film will change few minds about the way people navigate cities in the modern world. It will, however, play like gangbusters at gatherings of cyclist-rights activists.

Spending most of his time in Sao Paolo and Los Angeles, Gertten observes increasingly hellish traffic and introduces those advocating low-tech alternatives. In Brazil, young people use shockingly common cyclist-auto collisions as opportunities to beg for bike lanes; in L.A., we hear of the region's bygone commuter utopia from activists hoping to bring even a fraction of it back. (Sure, you know L.A. once had a great streetcar system that was killed off by General Motors and others. But have you heard of the California Cycleway, which in the late 1800s aimed to zip Pasadena residents straight to the Plaza?)

Gertten and some city-planner types hit us with stats both familiar (yeah, yeah, everybody in Copenhagen bikes to work) and shocking (especially those regarding the skyrocketing market for cars in China and other growing countries). But the movie, as its title suggests, has blinders on. It says almost nothing about the role trains, buses and other public transport must play in any solution to difficulties faced by contemporary cities, so while its presentation of some individual episodes may involve us in the action (check out Toronto's clownish, now disgraced mayor Rob Ford as he panders to SUV-addicted voters), the picture's overall usefulness suffers greatly. Yes, cities should build fewer freeways and make existing roads bike-friendly. But that's hardly even the start of a conversation about coping with urban sprawl, climate change and livability before we're all spending more time in cars than in the workplaces we're going to.

Production company: WG Film

Director-Screenwriter: Fredrik Gertten

Producers: Margarete Jangard, Elin Kamlert

Executive producers: Fredrik Gertten, Chris Paine

Editors: Benjamin Binderup, Sascha Fulscher, Morten Giese, Klaus Heinecke, Phil Jandalay

Music: Florencia Di Concilio

No rating, 91 minutes

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