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A highlight of the festival is the auction of this 50-year-old bicycle which has been restored by artist Poon Kng Joo.

Cycling into the hearts of Singapore

The three-day Bicycle Film Festival seeks to promote a positive profile of cyclists through movies, music and the arts.
Aug 21, 2015 5:50 AM

CARAMEL with sea salt is a fantastic, but unlikely, combination. So is going to a cat café and being surrounded by furry friends you don't have to actually take responsibility for. So when you think Bicycle Film Festival 2015 (BFF), it might sound niche, but it also might just be the next best improbable but successful blend to hit our shores.

BFF, a celebration of films, arts and music with a focus on the humble bicycle, originated in New York City in 2001, and has since spread to more than 50 cities.

Its founder, film producer Brendt Barbur, suffered a collision with a bus while riding his bicycle, and felt compelled to turn this negative experience into a positive one. Lyndon Yeo, 48, who is spearheading the event here, also had an accident with a bus while riding his bicycle, not in the Big Apple but here in Singapore.

The founder of sports marketing and lifestyle events management company Firefly Connections, which is organising the festival's debut in South-east Asia, Mr Yeo says: "Brendt and I both went through almost identical experiences about 20 years ago, except that a bus crashed into his bicycle while I rode into a double-decker bus. I broke my left collarbone and fractured my shin, and it took about three months for me to fully recover."

The avid cyclist conquered his fears and reignited his passion for the activity about two years ago, and believes the issues surrounding urban cycling are particularly significant in Singapore.

He explains: "There are lots of debates about motorists versus cyclists, and while work is being done on the infrastructure, people's mindset needs to change, too. We have to encourage motorists and cyclists to co-exist more peaceably and to work together to effect the changes that'll make this city a more bicycle-friendly place."

The BFF, then, is a good platform to promote and reinforce the positive profile of cyclists, and it celebrates cycling in its myriad forms.

The three-day festival kicked off on Aug 20 with an invitation-only opening night, and will be followed by an afternoon of art appreciation, a runway show, movies featuring cycling, and an after party at Seletar Airport on Friday. The event closes on Saturday with a gala dinner at Alkaff Mansion Ristorante, which will feature more movies and an auction.

Mr Yeo says: "In all the cities the festival has been in thus far, there's been a transformation on how we look at the urban cycling community and how that blends in with the lifestyle, design and architecture of the infrastructure of the city. It just helps start a discussion."

The event hopes to showcase up to 10 movies. One highlight is Clean Spirit, directed by Dirk Jan Roeleven. It follows the experiences of cycling team Argos-Shimano as it takes part in the 100th edition of the Tour de France, and shows that it is possible to win without resorting to drugs, a message that should reverberate quite strongly in Singapore.

All the featured movies are based on true stories and were selected by Mr Barbur, who will be in town for the festival.

The festival locations here were chosen for their heritage value. Having been held in old train stations, architectural warehouses and colonial buildings in other cities, it was very important for the organisers to find places of historical significance in Singapore.

Says Mr Yeo: "The Seletar Airport is also still functional and the rooftop events will be overlooking the active runway, so it'll be quite a sight."

Another tradition of the long-running festival is offering cyclists VIP treatment. This comes in the form of bicycle valets who will take care of all your parking needs. Car drivers need not apply.

The highlight of the gala dinner at Alkaff Mansion Ristorante is, perhaps surprisingly, not the food but the auction segment of the evening. Up for grabs is a 50-year-old heirloom bicycle that has been passed down three generations. The bicycle is from Tan Chor Meng and belonged to his grandfather who moved here from China in the 1960s.

You won't need to check for rust spots, however, as it has been lovingly restored by artist Poon Kng Joo from a classic gentleman "roadster" to a contemporary "fixie" in a process that took over five months.

"We're hoping to raise as much money as we can from the auction, maybe something in the five-figure range. It's difficult to tell because nothing of this sort has been done in Singapore," says Mr Yeo.

Part of the proceeds will be donated to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

While the festival will undoubtedly resonate more with cyclists, non-cyclists are welcome too. As Mr Yeo says: "You don't need to be a cyclist to appreciate art, watch a movie or enjoy a gala dinner."

BFF 2015 runs until Aug 22. Admission starts at S$25.

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