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This week in progressive film: Bikes vs. Cars

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That's become my quick and easy way to identify whether or not a film or documentary is truly engaging.

The designation answers this question: Would watching this film be interesting even if you were on a treadmill where time seems to pass at a glacial rate? In the case of Bikes vs. Cars, the answer is a definite yes. Time whizzes by as your brain absorbs the beautiful cinematography, clear storyline, genuine characters, and well-researched factoids brought to you by award-winning Swedish film-maker Fredrik Gertten.

Opening July 31 at Bloor Cinema and playing until August 6, this film takes us all around the world to explore the exponentially growing overpopulation of cars on our planet and the determined battle of urban cyclists to pressure lawmakers and city planners to accept their right to exist -- and even thrive.

From Sao Paulo to Los Angeles, from Bogotá to Toronto, the overall theme is one and the same: the massive car industry has managed to engineer a prosperous future for itself at the expense of our own economic, environmental, social, and physical, well-being. It's a future that is unsustainable, even though car makers would rather not think about it (or, as one proud former car executive argues in the film, car companies would rather see change happen "organically" rather than through the passing of laws and other similar irritations).

I can almost hear tonight's audience booing when former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford appears on the screen with his infamous statements about his commitment to defend car owners from the horde of cyclists who have taken over city streets. Incredibly, if you recall, Ford spent $300,000 to remove the Jarvis Street bike lanes that had cost under a third of that price to create. We aren't given the inside scoop on what truly motivated Ford to completely dismiss the safety concerns that cyclists face in Toronto (a cyclist is hit by a car there every seven hours); however, the film shows us how the car industry has heavily influenced the political system in Germany, the U.S., and Brazil. Plus, bike lanes affect the availability of parking spaces which impacts on local businesses, so that's another potential pressure point.

What makes films like Bikes vs. Cars worth the ticket price and our time is that it pulls us into an issue we already instinctively understand -- especially when we consider how much time many of us spend in gridlock -- and yet re-energizes us to want to do something about it.

The world sometimes just feels like one big epic battle between common-sense thinkers and greedy corporate interests. But if our lawmakers would just plan better -- we'd all be so much better off. Although some of us might be a little grumpier -- if we're the ones stuck behind the wheel.

And this brings me to my favourite character of the film: a cab driver working in Copenhagen, one of the world's best biking cities. Ivan Naurholm embodies what should be the spirit of drivers everywhere: that the road belongs to all of us, even if we're sometimes irritated by the presence of the other.

Check out the film's website here.

By the way, on Netflix now and also treadmill-worthy: Pump: The Movie, explores similar issues around our reliance on oil-fuelled technology.  

To suggest films for review, email [email protected] or tweet her at @AmiraElghawaby


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