The Show Must Go On

January 5, 2011 | Momentum Magazine 

“I don’t even remember sleeping last night,” says Brendt Barbur. That’s because on the September day when I managed to get him on the phone he’s running on two hours of sleep – caught between two overseas phone calls at 5:30 and 7:30 in the morning – and trying to deal with a problem in Korea, where his Bicycle Film Festival headed in October.

It’s one of 40 cities the festival hit in 2010, its 10th year. By the time it wrapped up, Barbur had circled the globe – he estimates that he was attending 75 percent of this year’s events. (He attended every event until 2008, when he didn’t go to an after after party.)

It’s a grueling schedule, and one that might be wearing him down: He told festival-goers in New York in June that 2010 was going to be BFF’s last year.

“It came after not sleeping for two weeks,” he says of the statement. “It’s a lot of work, and not what I want to do with my life.”

The workload might have been a bit heavier in 2010 – the festival maintained the same number of stops, but had less money than the year before – and Barbur is operating without an assistant or publicist for the first time in five years.

“No one works as hard as this team does,” he says. “It’s like a cult. If you’re halfway, your festival will suck.”

Despite the challenges, Barbur says that the show will likely go on – stops for 2011 have already been announced – though possibly without the expansion the fest has seen in recent years. “We’re going to focus on quality, not quantity.”

He recounts a story of a woman in Japan who was dragged to the festival by her boyfriend. She loved what she saw so much that she quit her job at a fashion magazine and started a new cycling magazine.

“It changed her life,” says Barbur. “That’s why I do it. Those kind of moments happen every festival.”

Add all those individuals together, and you have the makings of a movement. Barbur considers the BFF one of the biggest influences on urban bike culture (“I’m happy to say I don’t even know what that is anymore”) in the past decade.

“Everything society tells us is not to ride a bike,” he says. “It’s like, if you don’t have a car, you’re a 40-year-old virgin.”

The festival works to counteract that, showcasing bicycles and cyclists through film and art.

“When I see only bikers there, I know it’s not what I want,” he says. “When BFF is successful, you’ll see all sorts of people there – people who are into movies, people who are into art – and they’ll be inspired.”