Prod. Nicholas Navarro, Dir. Em Baker
There’s a lot to like in this bike road movie.
The vast landscapes of the United States and intimate moments of despair and tenderness carry the narrative through from San Francisco all the way to Orlando, Florida.
Produced by Nicholas Navarro and directed by Em Baker, Spoke tells the story of three commuter cyclists who set out to ride across the United States investigating why this country is the most dangerous developed nation for cyclists.
Additional video from Alexandro Aguilar and Lauren Gardner supplement the camera work by the producer and the director and there you have the entire crew. The production values complement the story with the location video and sound captured by cyclists actually cycling. Not all the dialogue is audible but it gives a great feel for life on the road.
The opening minutes capture the uncertainty of a new venture and introduce the characters and the drama of the ride. However, as the story unfolds I’m left wanting more depth from the documentary.
You know that at Follow Magazine we’re all about the power of art to enrich the world and break down boundaries. Documentary film is great at giving the audience insight into an otherwise unfamiliar world.
I’m a commuting cyclist and I enjoyed seeing the journey and wondering if I could survive an epic ride through heat and cold, windstorms and coyotes, but if I weren’t a cyclist, would this story help me understand how vulnerable a body is trundling along on two narrow strips of rubber? I don’t know.
Documentary is difficult. The filmmaker needs to dig for the story and work with the events and characters that are presented. Working with what she was presented, Baker has found some lovely images and leveraged off moments of serendipity to allow the real heart of the story to be revealed, the solidarity of cyclists across the nation.
The cyclists’ fresh faces in the opening minutes contrast beautifully with the overwhelmed and teary Baker in the closing scenes. The story is punctuated with interviews with various thinkers and activists, as well as the families of cyclists who have been killed. These interviews add another perspective to the first person narrative of the journey and hint at some of the issues behind the statistics of death and injury.
Not all of my questions were answered by the time the credits rolled and perhaps that’s the way it should be. There are no easy answers to the question of how bicycles and cars can travel safely together. Spoke raises questions and highlights pertinent themes of traffic speed, legislation, and penalties, and creates a starting point for discussion. The closing statistic is horrific but I won’t give that away.
Spoke takes you on a road trip to collect experiences and place the issue of cycle safety where it belongs, on the road. The good and gentle heart of Spoke powers the film to a strong conclusion. If you’re a cyclist, enjoy the journey. If you’re not a cyclist, jump on this bike story for an hour. You won’t regret it.
Spoke is screening at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival
Watch the trailer here