Bristol Bike Project

The Bristol Bike Project : Acting Local, Going Global

Andrew Oldham



The short documentary film, ‘The Bristol Bike Project’ has had considerable success since its completion in November 2009 and has been screened in a number of prestigious international venues (see attached), as well as being translated into six different languages. For a project with such a markedly localised inception, it continues to find a very diverse and global audience.


This paper will set out to examine the relationship of the film itself to its audience reception, not just as an example of successful global distribution, but also as evolving from a text that has the very contemporary concerns of transport, recycling, sustainability and migration inscribed into the heart of its narrative. The film has reached audiences  across national boundaries, but also across and between different interest groups of the cycling community, those interested in sustainability and recycling, and those primarily interested in issues surrounding migration and the status of political asylum.


The themes of movement and migration lie at the heart of the film’s narrative. This describes the stories of two asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Somalia through the simple device of the rebuilt bicycle moving out and away from the urban centre of Bristol. The bicycle gives each character a new sense of freedom in the otherwise very restrictive circumstances of their lives. But the bicycle also becomes the narrative vehicle of their own back stories describing their international passage from the dangers they faced in their homelands.


Research interviews conducted with both characters suggest a very real awareness of the invasion, destabilisation and colonial exploitation of their respective homelands and this is also suggested in the unfolding narrative of the finished film. The characters are like the flotsam and jetsam of forces way beyond their own control. This pattern of migration and human transportation has continued into the film’s tragic real life postscript, as  Abdul Aziz was recently detained in an Immigration Removal Camp and deported on a charter flight back to Kabul, in spite of clearly stating that the Taliban had threatened to decapitate him if they were ever to see him again.


The paper will go on to explore the tension between the issue of forced migration in the film, the rediscovered simplicity of cycling as a form of transport, and the quite unexpected and almost ironic globalised distribution of the film, both online and through the festival circuit. What is certain is that these issues of increased migration, reliance on alternative and simpler forms of transport and sustainability and recycling are all here to stay. Accordingly, the paper will also argue that documentary film should be seen to remain as a vital and popular medium, that is both energetic and necessary in the increasingly volatile world that we live in.


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