How St John’s biking scene affords consolation and purpose to its group
On a suburban street in St John, Florida lined with palm trees and bungalows, a group of bikers spin their engines before setting off on wheelies at 50 mph. Welcome to the bike life scene. The movement that brings together diverse communities across America and shouts “fuck you” about the restrictive nature of US law.
The new short film Bikes Up, Guns Down offers a fleeting yet intimate glimpse into the St John community of the scene. Born out of the disenchantment of “The American Dream”, the movement attracts those who feel alienated from the hedonistic St John lifestyle available only to the privileged few. When I do normal, often strenuous manual work during the day, cycling acts like a stress reliever – “It distracts me from work and all the bills and shit we have to pay here isn’t easy,” says a member of The Film. “Keeps me healthy,” explains another. The group gathers regularly to blow off steam after work, and although mostly male, the movement transcends typical social boundaries and welcomes anyone with enough nonsense to try it out.
“It’s a group of people with a passion who all come together with a very collaborative mindset. Traditional barriers fall away, ”explain James & James, the directors behind the film. Unique bonds and a strong sense of community are often forged. Importantly, it is also associated with the Bikes Up, Guns Down movement and offers an alternative to the lure of gangs and organized crime. “What’s the point of all of this?” asks a reporter in the film. “Put your gun down and get together,” a man tells him matter-of-factly. “They have to band together in large crews as this protects them individually from the law, but they would do it anyway. Then they drive through town together. It’s pretty amazing to see and be a part of. Everyone pays attention to each other – helps each other and protects everyone. “
“We don’t want our films to be our perspective on something, but rather an opportunity for people to present themselves and their lives so that viewers can form their own perspective” – James & James
The film spends time with members on their own doorstep. On the street and outside of their homes, we are briefly drawn into their circle, meet family and friends, and discover the important role cycling plays in their daily lives. “It’s in the blood,” says one member as he and his young daughter sit on a quad bike. This sense of intimacy is due in part to the relationship the filmmakers had before filming, first speaking to members on Instagram and then shooting once in St John in their own rooms. “We took a very relaxed approach without building a lot. We could hang out and see what they do and that’s it, ”add the directors. “We don’t want our films to be our perspective on something, but rather an opportunity for people to present themselves and their lives so that viewers can form their own perspective.” This relaxed ethos is also reflected in the visual aesthetic of the film. A mild golden haze envelops the biker throughout with a soft graininess achieved through the use of Kodak film. This continues the stereotypical concept of sun-kissed St John despite its non-conforming content. “It’s one of those places that has an almost mythical quality,” say the directors.
Despite protests by the local police, the bikers follow their activities without any shit. There are “a number of laws and rules that cater to the purposes of a very select type of citizen and then the weight of the law ready to step on everyone else” but with cycling, “the taste of protest is definitely in the air” . The directors add. “The bike life scene is a focus that proves the resilience of society and people. Faced with massive barriers, people will find ways to unite and show solidarity. ”
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