Portland just gets increasingly happening for bicycle nuts  — and that’s what Greg Fredette and Jason Turner focus on in their new feature-length documentary, Veer. While a number of cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago display what could be described as “bicycle culture”, Portland really trumps them all with its inspired and artistic individuality.

Veer is a character-based film, focusing on five individuals from the new school of Portland’s bike culture. They are each part of a larger group or movement and don’t have immediate ties to each other. The characters are followed throughout the year of 2007 and their activities are put under a lens and evaluated, even if, in some cases, the evaluation is only implied or carried out by the audience.

The movie seems to be mostly directed to those already obsessed and in love with cycling and so it is appropriately long (nearly two hours). They seemed to have no shame about their use of video as a medium and did little to hide that fact or “art-it-up” to look more like film. Even the editing techniques were fairly straightforward for a documentary of this type and it felt like a pleasant way to embrace the medium, instead of fighting it.
But I didn’t feel like all of the main characters worked very well or had strong dynamic personalities suited for on-screen entertainment and the emotional stuff worked better than the factual and logical.

One character spends most of the movie trying to find a new home for his bicycle classes and nonprofit parts shop. Despite this being framed as his life passion, he seems to have little outward expression for it emotionally and approaches it like he is having a business board meeting with a major firm. This detracted significantly from the film and he was featured promintently.

Despite the current struggles facing the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, this film frames their activities during shooting as wholly successful and groundbreaking, introducing a new law into legislation that requires more acknowledgment and punishment for cyclist fatalities that result from reckless driving. A particularly strong scene features families talking about their partners and children who were killed by cars whose drivers didn’t have to pay more than a few hundred dollars, appear in court, or acknowledge any significant wrong-doing.

Perhaps strangest of all, my former roommate, Lauren, was one of the five main characters. Her choreographed bicycle dance troupe, the Sprockettes play a major part in Portland’s bike culture, but she mostly focuses on the emotional impact and empowerment that cycling has played in his life after a loner childhood and growing up in a far-out suburb.

For those seeking gratuity, there is extensive coverage of Zoobomb and Minibike Winter, where adults ride adapted child-size minibikes turned mutant bikes down the steepest slope in the city and participate in flaming rides and chariot wars in full battle regalia.  It’s confusing as the character-based focus on Gabe Tiller made it difficult to understand the decentralized nature of an “organization” like Zoobomb, that is really operated by whomever is partipating at a given time. It’s also strange when a character that has never been introduced before ends up winning the century race.

It’s moving and powerful and while it left me a little overloaded with redundancy and extended masturbation by the end, I felt proud to be part of such an active and engaged community that is challenging the status quo – whether it’s through simple lifestyle activism, direct action protests, or those who can bear to suffer through the branches of state government and electoral politics. The movie made me feel like it’s a great time to re-engage with movements, activities, and public pressure that I had given up on years ago. Catering to the in-crowd in this way may limit it’s audience but like the small audiences that ever actually saw Joy Division perform live; the effects will be felt hard for a long time to come.

And hey, I can’t complain, there was plenty of product placement for Microcosm stuff!

Be Sociable, Share!