Film Festival Helps Build Roanoke Bike Culture

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[quote_right][feature_box title=”TDM TAKEAWAY” title_color=”fff” header_color=”369″]Partnering with arts and culture communities is a great way to increase awareness of transportation options.[/feature_box][/quote_right]

RIDE Solutions in Roanoke, Virginia has a long history of working with the local arts and culture scene to reduce traffic in the region.

We have worked with:

  • the Roanoke Arts Commission on: an art bike rack, a bicycle-based tour of public art installations, and a program called Art by Bus
  • the independent Roanoke Arts Mural project to sponsor a bike-based mural in one of Roanoke’s historic neighborhoods, and
  • a Lynchburg, Virginia economic development group to sponsor an art bike-rack project there, to name a few.

Meanwhile, downtown Roanoke has been undergoing an economic and cultural renaissance similar to other urban centers all across the country. In our situation, the audiences we realized we needed to reach were the front line of Millennials moving into new downtown apartments, retirees returning to the urban core for its cultural offerings, and a growing creative class seeking opportunities to express themselves.

The Shadowbox Microcinema was always more successful when it screened films created by local folks, so we began working with it to hold the Bike Shorts Film Festival.

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Two specific audiences for us were potential bike commuters who just needed that last bit of encouragement or education to get them out of their cars and on their bicycles and folks who ride for recreation but not transportation.

Our advocacy relied, and still relies, on non-cyclists understanding the value of bicycling for transportation, of investing in the proper infrastructure, and knowing how to share the road safely with cyclists. Without getting support from, and making champions out of, this cohort, we would never have a thriving bike culture in the Roanoke Valley.

We needed to change the image of cycling that had been long-established in Roanoke as something you did when you didn’t have a choice, or as the pastime of road warriors in bright, tight shorts and $3,000 bicycles.

We wanted to make cycling cool, fun, and accessible.

We wanted to make riding a bicycle the act of a creative community.

Above all, we wanted people to know that our program was a driving force behind the growth of that community.

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Director Hank Ebert and crew accepts the 2015 Audience Choice award for the Bike Shorts Roanoke premiere.

In Roanoke, there were, and are, many outlets for the arts. What there wasn’t was a place for local filmmakers to reach an audience. The Bike Shorts Film Festival allows us to capitalize on that need, providing an outlet and audience for these artists that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

We used the festival as a way to partner with existing organizations. For example, it would not have been successful without the early support of the Taubman Museum of Art, which had a ready theater space. We were able to have that space donated to us for the first few years of the festival, drastically reducing the expense of the event and bringing a new audience to the Taubman. Our festival was regularly the most well-attended event that took place in the museum’s theater.

As for how the festival works: participants submit a short film, 10 minutes or less, that has something to do with a bicycle. That’s it. Films we have received in the past vary from zombie movies to music videos to romantic stories to documentaries. We accept the films online, primarily via Dropbox, and contract with a local technical wizard to put the final screening package together.

We offer a series of prizes as incentives: three audience awards and three juried awards reviewed by a panel of local volunteer judges like the arts reporter for The Roanoke Times, radio personalities, film professors, economic development staff, and others.

Something that has surprised us over the last two years is from how far afield we have received entries. Since 2013, we have received submissions from England, Israel, Hong Kong, Canada, Belgium, and Ireland, as well as from all across the United States. The opportunity to screen these films means we are able to create an amazing show for our audience, which helps justify the admission price and sponsorship levels, along with bringing great stories to the screen and raising Roanoke’s international profile as someplace with a great cycling culture.

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Director Ben Buzzard and crew accept the 2015 Best Local Film Award.

However, we don’t want to isolate our core supporters of local filmmakers. The Audience Choice – which almost always goes to someone local – and Best Local Film prizes mean these folks are recognized for their work even as they are screened alongside some films of amazing quality from around the world.

A YouTube prize goes to the film that has received the most views by the end of National Bike Month. This gives motivated filmmakers a reason to share and promote their work, while it drives audiences to our YouTube channel and, hopefully, increases their awareness of the RIDE Solutions program. Check out all the past films here.

Having these films on our YouTube channel provides promotional opportunities throughout the year. For example, in October 2014, we organized previous years’ submissions into a horror movie playlist, then shared that playlist on social media channels and other places in celebration of Halloween. The playlist was even picked up by the local daily newspaper.

Early on, to promote during the submission period – which begins almost immediately after the end of the current year’s festival – we use a combination of traditional advertising, word of mouth, and social media – particularly Facebook ads and Google AdWords buys.

It should be noted that the film festival is more than just a promotional program for us. It’s also an opportunity to generate revenue. Though we are not there yet, the goal of the Bike Shorts Film Festival is to have it be financially self-sustaining. Currently, a significant chunk of the festival’s cost is covered by our transportation demand management program‘s marketing budget, but each year the amount we are able to raise in sponsorship dollars increases, and with the festival’s move to more highly visible, well-regarded venues, those opportunities will only improve.

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Director Travlyn Pantana accepts the 2015 Audience Choice award for the Bike Shorts Lynchburg screening.

While it is difficult to measure the impact of a program like this on actual mode shift, we have some indicators of success:

  • Attendance at the screenings is growing each year. The number of films we receive from outside the region, as well as the quality of the films we receive from within the region, similarly grow.
  • When considered as part of our overall slate of bike-month activities, the number of people who participate in any of those activities also grows, so overall awareness of opportunities to bicycle are improving, and
  • The number of people who arrive at the theater on bicycles increases every year.

These are softer measures. But when viewed alongside the overall increase in cycling across our region; the more than 600-percent increase in miles of on-road bike accommodations in the Roanoke Valley; and the generally positive view by the populace recognizing bicycling’s importance towards the region’s transportation system, its quality-of-life, and economic development, we feel the the Bike Shorts Film Festival has been a fundamental part of the growth of Southwest Virginia’s cycling culture.

Photos courtesy of RIDE Solutions.

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Dwight Martino

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