To the Pedal Born filmmakers, a bicycle can change the world

Filmmakers Jacob and Isaac Seigel-Boettner weren’t born on bicycles. But their parents did bring them home from the hospital in bike trailers, and they spent much of their childhood on bicycles.
Pedal Born
For the brothers, co-founders of Pedal Born Pictures, the bicycle is so much more than a toy.

When producing their 2011 film, With My Own Two Wheels, Jacob and Isaac used their experiences as inspiration. The award-winning film wove together the stories of five people from around the globe into a narrative about the bicycle’s potential to change the world.

They looked to World Bicycle Relief for help in finding field stories for the film. After a call with co-founder and CEO F.K. Day, Isaac and Jacob soon found themselves in Zambia, capturing the story of Fred, a volunteer HIV/AIDS caregiver who made his rounds on a Buffalo Bicycle.

Since then, WBR and Pedal Born Pictures have been back to the field together several times. Starting in 2013, the production company began creating videos for WBR. Jacob and Isaac also speak on behalf of The Power of Bicycles at film screenings and events.

Here’s what Jacob and Isaac had to say about their work, WBR and bicycles:

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How have bicycles inspired your work with Pedal Born Pictures?

Every summer growing up, we would lead youth bike tours across the globe as a family. When you are traveling by bicycle, you meet some incredible storytellers. We camped in the yards of Amish farmers in Kentucky, ate dinner with British Special Forces in the Canadian Rockies, and traded tales with genocide survivors in Rwanda. These roadside teachers taught us the power of sharing stories with complete strangers, something that is core to what we try to do as filmmakers.

During that summer tour in Rwanda, we first saw how the bicycle could be so much more than the awesome toy that we had grown up on.

What inspired you to work with WBR in the field?

Throughout the With My Own Two Wheels journey, we were impressed by the stories of WBR bicycle recipients as well as the emphasis the organization places on sustainability. From the mechanics training program, to work/study-to-own programs, to the constant refinement of the Buffalo Bicycle based on field feedback.

As former bike mechanics ourselves, we know first-hand how crucial these behind-the-scenes aspects are to what WBR does.

When WBR contacted us about going back to Zambia in 2013, we jumped at the opportunity. The idea of being able to tell more stories for an organization that we truly believe in has been an honor.

Working with WBR over the past few years has allowed us to translate our passion for The Power of Bicycles into a direct impact in the field. Since With My Own Two Wheels, we have now made five filming trips to Zambia and Kenya, and can’t wait to go back!

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What do you find most inspirational about traveling to and filming in the field?

When sharing someone’s story with a global audience, we always try to give a sense of what their day-to-day life is like. This means waking up with them, going to fetch water, cooking breakfast.

Once the audience realizes that a person on the other side of the world goes through a similar morning routine, it really helps build a bridge. Audiences always connect with scenes of people brushing teeth. Yep, we all do it, whether in San Francisco or Palabana, Zambia!

Getting a chance to go into people’s homes and experience how they live is always very powerful. Inevitably, after the cameras turn off, we are invited into someone’s home or office for a mandatory cup of chai, a mandazi (think African doughnut), or an ear of roasted corn. They might not have much in the way of material wealth, but this simple meal is offered without hesitation.

It often turns into a lengthy visit with our hosts, in which they flip the interview roles, asking questions about what brought us to their community. As filmmakers, this is often a much-needed look in the mirror – a reminder that the desire to hear and share stories goes both ways.

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You filmed A Way Forward with World Bicycle Relief. Tell us more about its creation.

We arrived in Kenya last year with a relatively open-ended assignment: Tell the stories of a group of high school girls who had received bicycles at Bukhaywa Secondary School. After the first few days, it became clear the bicycle was doing much more than just allowing the girls to get to school on time.

Dianah and Angela spoke incredibly openly about how their bicycles helped them escape a cycle of rape and gender violence that has led many of their classmates to drop out of school. We were floored.

While some organizations might hesitate to delve into such a difficult story, WBR wanted to explore this further.

It was incredible to see the reactions once A Way Forward was launched. In this age of 30-second social media videos, we were blown away by the number of people who sat down to engage with a 6-minute documentary that–in a time when many are struggling to discuss gender violence–puts this issue front and center.

The success of the film has led to a powerful festival run (see a list of screenings below), which gave us the opportunity to discuss the issues in the film in-person with audiences.

One of the things people frequently ask is how we were able to get the women in the film to speak so openly about gender violence. After all, we were just two white, bearded brothers who dropped in with cameras. Truthfully, the women themselves were the ones who brought up the subject. This realization has gotten audiences to look in the mirror a bit and examine how they talk (or don’t talk) about these issues in their own lives.

A Way Forward Screenings
Durango Independent Film Festival Frozen River Film Festival 5Point Film Festival
Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival SFIndiefest Filmed by Bike
Bicycle Film Festival Port Townsend Film Festival Crested Butte Film Festival
No Man’s Land Film Festival
What does the bicycle mean to you?

Since those first family bike tours growing up, the bicycle has been a way to connect: with the world around us, the people around us, and sometimes, just with the grocery store down the hill. The bicycle has allowed us to both slow down and enjoy the road, and reach our destinations when we need to, under our own power.

At the same time, we recognize that our view of the bicycle is a privilege. For us, it is a lifestyle choice. We can always hop on a bus or borrow a friend’s car. Dianah and Angela don’t have that option. The opportunity to share stories like theirs is a constant reminder of The Power of Bicycles and our responsibility to help others make connections using this incredible machine.

Have you seen the award-winning A Way Forward? Watch it now, then spread the word!

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