Spend any time in and around the Pioneer Valley, and you quickly come to realize that bike culture has gained a strong foothold in the area. For years people have been able to take their bikes on the bus for a double dose of eco-friendly commuting, and more recently an expanded system of rail trails has provided bikers both recreational and proselytizing the means to get out and about. And perhaps most famously, the Northampton-based, worker-owned, Pedal People provides everything from trash collection to pedicab services via its two-wheeling army.
It should come as no surprise, then, to hear that the bike community also has its own film festival. Part of the annual Bay State Bike Week, the festival is on the slate of events taking place in Amherst. (It's followed a day later by a "bike rodeo" that I'm equally curious about.) Part celebration of bike culture, part push for a change in our transportation habits, the films should spark a lively discussion among open-minded moviegoers.
The screenings—they all take place on the second floor of the Amherst Town Hall—get underway at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday with a series of shorts that look at the varied state of bicycling worldwide (while we're used to seeing office drones heading to work in full-on Tour de France gear, that's far from the case everywhere). Those will be followed by a 7 p.m. screening of With My Own Two Wheels, a documentary that contrasts the lives of five bicyclists from all over the globe, moving from Zambia and Ghana to India, Guatemala, and California as it builds its case for using the humble bike as a vehicle for change. The feature is cosponsored by Transition Amherst, a community resource group that leads a discussion after the screening.
Also this week: Pleasant Street Theater continues two of its ongoing series. First up is the Friday night Midnight at Pleasant Street show, which this week brings in the Bobcat Goldthwait opus God Bless America. Written and directed by the man best remembered as an unhinged cadet from the Police Academy franchise, his 2011 film is a dark comedy about a man at the end of his rope. Played by Joel Murray (Mad Men), Frank is a middle-aged guy hit by the trifecta: no job, no girl, and diagnosed with a deadly tumor. Ready to end it all, he instead finds a strange kind of renewal by turning his gun on the rest of the world—or at least those rude, crude, or unthankful enough to deserve it. "Why have a civilization if we're no longer interested in being civilized?" he asks as he guns down the dregs (including, in a scene sure to draw cheers, a badly behaved movie audience). Along the way he picks up Roxy, a girl sidekick who shares his morose view of humanity.
Also at PST is Last Days Here, screening Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at part of the Seeing Sound: Punk vs. Metal series. A tale of triumph over long musical obscurity, it is the story of Bobby Liebling, lead singer of the band Pentagram. Slaving away at his dream for over three decades, Liebling survives more than one band break-up, a few ruined record deals, and the indignity of living in his parents basement. Finally, the metal underground comes around to his vision—but is it too late for Liebling to seize the opportunity? Directed by Don Argott and Demian Fenton (The Art of the Steal), Last Days Here reminds us that a heavy metal documentary, like all great genre pictures, is about more than the story at hand.
And finally this week, a note on a free screening taking place at Amherst Cinema on Thursday, May 10 at 7 p.m.: Caldera is an animated tale about a young woman struggling with her own powerful mind. Forced to choose between a life of medication and the unknown of her own mania, she chooses the latter, with vivid results. The film was written by Hampshire alumni Evan Viera and Chris Bishop, who will be on hand with editor and former Pixar employee Chris Perry to discuss creating the film's striking animation.
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.