The annual Motorcycle Film Festival, if you’ve ever imagined there could be such a thing, might defy most of or even all of the expectations you have in your head. Firstly, it’s not held at some Harley Davidson dealership outside of Hoboken. So far, the fest has had a home in Greenpoint and Williamsburg and this year, the fest’s third year, it’ll be happening in Gowanus (mostly) at Littlefield. Secondly, it was founded by a woman, Corinna Mantlo and a guy, Jack Drury. But guess which one of them has been riding motorcycles longer? Here’s a hint: she runs a badass all-female motorcycle club called the Miss-Fires. And finally, this fest is about so much more than just motorcycle films.
The festival started out in 2013, shortly after Jack and Corinna teamed up with the idea of filling a niche with something they were passionate about. They both knew about some micro-festivals focusing on motorcycle shorts and a larger festival abroad that showcased motorcycle films amongst other sports films, but they had trouble finding any decently sized festival dedicated entirely to motorcycle movies.
And the festival keeps growing. At this third installment — set for Sept. 23 through 27 — there are some really amazing things happening. Firstly, there’s gonna be a special Easy Rider-themed discussion between members of the crew who built those sick choppers in the film. And if you thought this fest was just about sitting quietly, hands in lap, you’re sorely mistaken– there are plenty of parties and after-parties to attend, including one at 10 pm on Saturday September 26th in which Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds will be headlining.
OH, and leading up to the fest (and throughout) “The Art of Ray Abeyta,” which is exactly what it sounds like– an art show dedicated to the late Abeyta, motorcyclist, artist, and a dude widely considered to be “Williamsburg royalty.”
If you’re wondering what makes a “motorcycle film,” the term doesn’t just apply to obvirus ones like Easy Rider and The Wild One — there are also film likes Wild Hog (lol), starring Tim Allen and John Travolta, that aren’t exactly classic and The Motorcycle Diaries, a docudrama about a young Che Guevara, that aren’t exactly (North) American. Motorcycle movies have been around the block and they aren’t just for the classic American Road Warrior Man trope any longer.
And while some of the more recently made motorcycle movies could maybe be perceived as elaborate (or at least complicit) product placement (Honda, after all, was a sponsor of the fest last year) the films that have won the standard fest awards, including Feature Documentary and Short Experimental, emphasize a strong story, tales of incredible DIY feats, and sometimes even experimentalism over branded bike-fetishism.
We sat down with Jack at Park Luncheonette in Williamsburg, where he seemed to know almost everyone within a mile radius, back when things were still firing up for the fest to find out more about motorcycle films, running the festival, and his personal history with motorcycles. We learned, among other things, there’s currently a renaissance in motorcycle filmmaking happening all over the world. Neat.
The first bike I bought was $500. It was a Honda CM 250, which is widely considered a really cute, completely underpowered bike. It’s the least desirable Honda of all time. Nobody wants one. I was like, “I know it’s small, I just want something little to fuck around on and teach myself.”
So I get money from a friend of mine, we figured we’ll each throw in $250 and we can just split the bike, we’ll each own half of it. It’ll be really cool. Because this is a great idea, I’m fucking 19, what do I know? My head is so far up my ass I’m wearing myself as a hat.
There’s a dude who makes custom bike frames in New York City and he’s just one of the best guys in the city, classic old-school New Yorker. He lived in C Squat in the ‘90s, still lives in a squat in the Lower East Side, and builds bicycles. His name is Seth Rosko and he found out I had a bug for motorcycles at one point. He’s like, “Cool, I run this thing called NYC VinMoto and we do a block party every year in August, and you do events, so you’re gonna put it on.”
So I did the block party with the rest of the VinMoto crew and I started looking for motorcycles again and it was 2009 on North 14th street in August across from Works Engineering. So I met all those dudes and I can’t remember the timeline, but around that time I picked up a Buell Blast which is probably even more undesirable than the CM250. It was a bike by a company that was already disowned by Harley.
This bike was a little 500 thumper, which means it had like one cylinder. It was ugly as fuck, the tank was literally made out of the same stuff that golf balls are made out of. I’m like, “I want it to be ugly, small, no one will ever fuckin’ steal it. And I don’t care if I drop it or someone hits it.”
One of the people who came in [to NYC VinMoto] the same year I did was a woman named Corinna Mantlo. We hit it off, we really had a good vibe. She’s a proper city kid, like born and raised in the city, but lived in the Catskills for a while. She bleeds New York, she’s like super legit and just fucking wonderful and rad and really smart.
She and her friends grew up making films — just super indie guerrilla stuff, part of the Troma crew — and made silent art films on the side. We’d talked about film festivals, and she mentioned that she’d always wanted to do a film festival. She’d ran this thing for a few years before called Cine Meccanica, which is all motorcycle and hot rod exploitation movies like Hells Angels on Wheels and Psychomania, B movies like Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Vanishing Point. Shit that Tarantino bases all of his movies off of.
But she’d been doing it for years at that point and she decided she really wanted to do a motorcycle film festival. “I’m friends with these dudes in LA that run one, I help them with movies, and we should do one in New York.” It was a one-day, shorts-only kind of festival that they ran out there. A lot of the dudes are part of this club called the Cretins and they are just really fun guys.
I noticed on social media there’s this whole vibe of chopper, ‘60s motorcycle culture that’s really permeated. And it’s not just for men either. It’s non-gender biased. Men and women have both adopted that look again and that’s cool, I dig it. But I also dig another side of it. One of our judges, Ted Simon, he wrote a book in the ‘70s called Jupiter’s Travels, which is the story of his ride around the whole world by himself on a Triumph. That kind of history too is just so fascinating. Our head judge is a motorcycle historian for his day job. He writes auction descriptions of 100-year-old motorcycles.
We had this movie last year called One Map for Two, it was an Italian movie. It’s about these two dudes, Moretti and Tatarini, who drove around the world in the ‘50s, on two Ducatis that were 175s. For reference a 175 is smaller than any bike you’ll ever see in New York except for a moped and they rode around the whole world on these. And there were no dealership and there were no places to like get stuff fixed, it was just these two dudes. They got stuck in Malaysia and they were there for the revolution and they almost got killed.
That international context is interesting to think about in terms of motorcycles too. I had a friend who lived in Ghana and he’d never had a motorcycle before, but there it just made total sense for him to ride one.
I’ve been told, and this is common lore, that the single most produced combustion engine of all time of any type, we’re talking about generators, cars, fucking ship engines… name a single thing that burns, diesel, gasoline, fucking who cares? I don’t care. But the number one model of motor that’s ever been produced in history is the Honda 50cc scooter motor. Millions and millions have been made, because that is how the world gets from point A to point B.
America has a very different view of the motorcycle than the rest of the world. America effectively treats the motorcycle as a form of leisure above everything else. The rest of the work treats it like transportation.
Last year it became a joke because we had around 70 movies submitted to us, and of those, around 70 were short films about a dude building a custom bike and we dubbed it the “Beards and Sparks” genre. We were going to joke, “Entry fee: short film $15, feature length $20, Beards and Sparks $150.” Because we got so, so many of them.
We can’t make that joke though because most of them are really, really good. They’re great stories. I sat through all 70 fuckin’ movies and I really enjoyed most of them. The next trend we wanna see is the return of the narrative movie. So, think of the motorcycle movies you know– they are all narratives.
We want to see people getting back to telling the basics of the story about a motorcycle to express a larger human emotion. Documentaries do an amazing job of this too, but right now it’s so heavily weighted toward documentary because it’s what we have, it’s what we see every day. It’s been so long since there’s been a boom in motorcycle narratives, we really want to see that come back — feature-length especially.
And another thing we want to see is, like, weird experimental stuff. My favorite movie last year, and it won our award for best experimental, it was a music video from two filmmakers in England who went to India and they made a music video for this band, Django Django. It was about Wall of Death riders and they do this amazing thing of blending beautiful imagery with documentary and just crazy cinematography. It was a piece of art based on motorcycles.
One that really pushed the boundary of the genre won the Feature Narrative last year and it’s called Shooter and Whitley and it’s very much an art film. But it’s about 1 percent clubs and it’s about couple of people who are a part of that named Shooter and Whitley and it really blurred the lines. These people were real, but the filmmaker did a really great job of forcing you to consider: How much of this is fake? How much of this is real? What am I watching here? It’s not an easy movie to watch because it’s tense. There are a lot of really long, drawn out shots.
Our best Short Narrative was a music video as well for an old ’50s song called Vincent Black Lightning, 1952. A Scottish filmmaker [Cat Bruce] and her friend covered the song with beautiful vocals and acoustic guitar, real traditional-like. And she did the whole thing as a cut out animation. It was heart breaking and beautiful and feminine and tough and just gripping.
One year this dude showed up out of the blue and he got there on our second day. And he’s just this charming guy from Mexico City with this gorgeous girl. And I was like, “Who are you guys?” He was like, “We found out about you guys two days ago and we bought our ticket the next day and now we’re here.” Turns out his name is Jorge Poza and he’s a giant Mexican soap opera actor and it was his girlfriend at the time and they were so stoked to see motorcycles as art for a change. That kind of vibe is very important to us.
I finally went out and got a beautiful new bike a few months ago and I’m stoked on it. It’s really fun to be able to ride again outside of the city. I had a little dirt bike, but I have a BMW now. I try my best to be as square as possible. I wear all my gear all the time. I wear a full-faced helmet. I wear, like, boots. I ride the most sensible, quiet, comfortable bike. It’s not the kind of bike you ride to make a statement, it’s the kind of bike you ride just because you wanna ride the bike.
Traditionally, other groups of bikers don’t talk to Beemer dudes because they have the reputation for being the squarest. We wear a lot of armor and have full-faced helmets, wear beards and teach math. It’s a super sensible culture on the surface. That’s changed a ton recently and even though BMWs are the super cool bike right now, I’m still all ‘sensible’ or nerdy slash nervous but I lust after modern sport bikes and old choppers and café racers.