The Bikes of Wrath, the raw, feature-length film that documents the journey of five Aussies across the United States – unsupported and on bicycles – premieres on ABC TV this Sunday 30th of June at 9.30pm.
The trip was inspired by John Steinbeck’s famous novel The Grapes of Wrath, where the Joad family migrates from Oklahoma to California to escape the Dust Bowl, a drought-stricken region of the US during the 1930s.
Equipped with $420 (equivalent to the $18 the Joad family leaves with in the novel), a bunch of musical instruments for busking, camera equipment and very basic skills in the cycle-touring department, the crew set out on a month-long adventure.
I had a chance to chat with Leon, Charlie and Cameron about the trip ahead of their TV premiere (which they’re super pumped about by the way). Funnily enough, many Australian adventure films struggle to gain traction here, and head to overseas audiences before screening to home audiences. It even lead to members of the crew starting the Port Fairy Adventure Film Festival in Victoria, but more on that later. My first question was why, as five Aussies, they’d decided to explore a part of American history. Why not Australian history?
‘The enthusiasm and energy of a group of five guys from somewhere else, really wanting to learn about a country, that opens up conversation. It’s a pretty unique angle,’ says Cameron. ‘I’d love to cycle across Australia, but I’m not sure we’d have the same access that we had in the States.’
‘Through the middle of America and the Bible Belt, they don’t meet too many Australians. It probably helped that we were riding on bikes too,’ adds Charlie.
But the bikes also made it tough. Most of the crew weren’t experienced and ambitious goals had made the bikes particularly heavy.
‘Day one was like 10 miles,’ says Cameron, ‘The stuff we were carrying was just absurd.’
Professionally filming their own self-supported journey with basically no money was always going to be tough, and admittedly, did help the crew to connect with the poverty in the novel. But an additional plan to busk for extra funds quickly blew out bike weights. Ironically, no one had the energy or desire to play after long days in the saddle.
Not to mention the interviews with the locals – but luckily these were a bit easier. I was surprised when Charlie said that not once were they asked to put the cameras away.
‘In a way, it’s a forgotten part of America. People were really quite forthcoming with their opinions, because someone asking them questions, willing to listen to them.’
Generosity Where You’d Least Expect It
‘Oklahoma is one of the poorer states in the US,’ says Cameron, ‘and people were literally crossing the road to offer us help.’
Charlie pitches in, ‘That’s one of the main themes in Grapes of Wrath, “Those who have the least give the most”, and that’s spoken to throughout the film.’
The fellas stress that they’re aware that it was a choice to do the adventure in a low budget way, and that they got to head home to comfy beds and normal lives. But despite the ways it might be construed as problematic, they reckon it was essential to making the connections that they did.
The key takeaway? ‘It’s not a cycling film,’ says Cameron.
‘People leaving the theater always say that they thought it was going to be about cycling, but it’s about so much more than that. The cycling adventure is simply a conduit towards a look at modern-day America’
You can now watch Bikes of Wrath on ABC iView. Be sure to tune in to see the struggles, insights and triumphs that the guys couldn’t spoil in the interview. Check out the bikeesofwrath.com while you’re at it.
The film is the first of a series, follow Floatin’ with Huck to keep up to date with the latest adventure, a 90-day float down the Mississippi to recreate the story of Huckleberry Finn.
We Are Explorers is proud to be partnering with the Port Fairy Adventure Film Festival, which is running from 8-10 November in Port Fairy, Victoria. The not-for-profit festival is going to be a blast, with screenings of local and international films, talk panels and a bunch of adventurous activities to get stuck into. See ya there!
Pack up yer bike and go!