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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Still We Ride
Still We Ride
Other // Unrated // March 18, 2008
List Price: $14.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Chris Neilson | posted June 10, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Across nearly 400 cities worldwide, bicyclists converge on the last Friday of each month for the "Critical Mass" ride. Most participants gather to celebrate and be a part of a biking community, many come to agitate for increased municipal services and cyclists' rights, and some hope to make larger political statements about alternative transportation, oil dependence, consumerism, environmentalism, direct action, and a myriad of other issues.

The first Critical Mass (CM) ride occurred in San Francisco in September of 1992. Within a year, New York City had its own monthly ride. Because it's a grassroots movement purposefully devoid of leadership there's nobody to legitimately speak on behalf of CM. Rides occur without permits.

Between 1993 and 2004, the political and police leadership of New York City essentially tolerated the monthly CM rides. The City's acquiescence to the rides ended dramatically with the August 2004 ride. With the Republican National Convention just days away, the City conducted mass arrests of CM riders, nabbing 264 participants and bystanders alike and confiscating even more bikes.

The 37-minute documentary Still We Ride (2005), directed by Andrew Lynn, Elizabeth Press, and Chris Ryan, assembles footage of that first mass arrest and subsequent CM rides and arrests shot by a number of participants, independent media, and police. In addition, the filmmakers have obtained subsequent interviews with bike activists and civil rights attorneys, and documented developments in the continuing legal tussle between the riders and the City over whether the City's position that a parade permit is required for CM rides infringes upon the CM participants' constitutionally-guaranteed rights to free speech and free association.

The profusion of video cameras at progressive political gatherings in recent years has been a boon to documentary filmmakers. Very little of consequence occurs now that isn't recorded, and since at least the Seattle WTO protests in 1999, there have been coordinated efforts by independent media to assemble and disseminate that material. Documentaries like Jill Friedberg and Rick Rowley's This is What Democracy Looks Like (2000), and this one, would not be nearly as powerful without the contributions of DV from numerous participants and independent observers. Here the footage of NYC police officers using very aggressive techniques to arrest cyclists and confiscate bikes, often bikes merely locked up to street posts in the vicinity of CM rides, is dramatic, as is audio recordings of NYC cops generally disparaging CM participants or explaining that CM rides were tolerable until they were "infiltrated by the ACLU." This footage pulls the story together in a way that talking heads alone could not.

The Video:
Filmmakers Lynn, Press, and Ryan have done a remarkable job of interweaving a variety of disparate source material into a seamless whole that has a remarkably uniform visual quality. Considering the source material, the 1.33:1 presentation looks remarkably good with minimal video compression errors, sharp detail, good contrast, and fairly consistent color levels.

The Audio:
Again considering the source material, Still We Ride has a remarkably good audio track. The 2.0 Dolby Digital audio has no stereo separation to speak of, but dialogue is generally easily understandable, distortion is kept to a minimum, and audio levels are uniform.

This release offers removable English, French, Spanish, Italian and German subtitles which appear adequately sized, placed, and paced.

The Extras:
The short main feature is supplemented with a number of extras including a trailer for Still We Ride, and seven video shorts comprising 44 minutes, the most interesting of which is a 25 minute interview with Critical Mass co-founder Chris Carlsson which is excerpted in the main feature. Carlsson is an extremely bright, engaging, and persuasive proponent for cycling, non-hierarchical grassroots organizing, and civil liberties. Accordingly, this extra is definitely worth checking out, even if some of the other shorts are a bit lacking.

An update on the NYC Critical Mass gatherings since Still We Ride wrapped in 2005, either via a commentary track or a video short would have been a valuable extra, unfortunately none was provided.

Final Thoughts:
Still We Ride is highly recommended to viewers interested in progressive politics, anarchist or grassroots movements, and/or civil liberties generally, or in bicyclists' rights and direct action specifically.

>>>>>Last image by photographer Tod Seelie.<<<<<

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