Profile of a BFF Filmmaker: Amelia Shaw

by Heather Reid
photos courtesy of Amelia Shaw 

Toronto-based filmmaker Amelia Shaw first established roots in her bike community through the Bicycle Film Festival, while living in Brooklyn. For Shaw, the festival is a haven of inspiration and community. It served as a birth place for an artistic focus on projects that integrate her photography and film with her passion for bike culture.

Screening this year at BFF was her latest documentary, a look at Kevin Cyr’s “Camper Bike” art project. Cyr painted and constructed an RV-bike hybrid, which he travelled through China on. dandyhorse  covered the project in our Spring 2010 issue. To learn more about it you can read our archive post here - or just catch Amelia’s film once it has concluded its run with the festival!

For the first time in a few years, Toronto didn’t have the Bicycle Film Festival this summer. The annual event still thrived in happening bike cities around the world, where it brought activists, volunteers, and artists together over their love of cycling. We hope to see it back in T.O. next year.

Toronto-based and Aussie-born filmmaker and avid cyclist, Amelia Shaw. Taken while on a bike trip through Europe for a documentary/graphic novel project.

How did you end up in Toronto?

I’m originally from Australia – I guess you can hear it! I moved to New York for photography and spent a couple of years there before I moved to Montreal. I lived in Montreal for three years and then Toronto this year.

Those are a lot of good bike cities. How would you comment on the differences in biking in those cities verus Toronto?

Yeah, they are – it’s worked out very nicely. Montreal was probably the most accommodating. Montreal is a really nice city to bike around in. The bike lanes there are pretty good and it was my first experience with the BIXI bike share system.

New York is a lot of fun. It can get a bit crazy. There are a lot of obstacles and a lot of people walking out onto the street. You’ve got to deal with the New York taxis. But it’s pretty exciting too! It was such a massive difference coming from Brisbane, Australia.

To be fair, we still do a lot of biking in Australia. But we tend to stick to off-road and mountain biking. There’s a huge bike culture growing there at the moment.

But I think in Toronto it's fun to bike around, but the streetcar tracks can get a bit hazardous. I’m not sure which city I’d say I prefer, but New York City is definitely very exciting to ride a bike around in.

Tell me about your work with art and bicycling. Do you do it to raise awareness or do bikes become involved more incidentally?

I definitely do want to raise awareness and popularize it. It would be amazing to have everyone on bikes. I want to show how much fun it can be, and how important and sustainable it is. I think it is definitely the future. I don’t know how long it would take to get there though! I just love riding my bike. If I can express that fun element and the excitement about it, I think it would attract people to give it a shot and put their car in the garage and ride a bike instead.

A still taken from Amelia Shaw's documentary Camper Bike.

Do you feel like your work has had that effect so far?

Yeah – the camera bike film has been really well received. I think because Kevin’s project was very popular anyway, it made everyone really think about what he was trying to do. A lot of it was about cultural comparisons - because he spent so much time in Bejing for the film, and the camper bike is very American. Kevin grew up in the U.S., and the work bike is very popular in Asia. He was just trying to bring the two cultures together in an abstract way, to show people the differences between them.

 Kevin Cyr at work on his camper bike project.

Do you mostly focus on documentaries?

I mix around in multiple mediums. I do photography, film, design, and web programming – I build web sites as well. The films I do are in a documentary style, I haven't done any narrative ones. I like working with such a mixture and doing so many different things. It keeps everything new and fresh, so I don’t really stick to one kind of genre.

What are you working on right now?

I just did a bike ride from Berlin to Budapest. I got back just two days ago and I’m making a film about that. I did it with a friend of mine who’s an artist, and for the project we will be making a film about the trip, and we'll also do a graphic novel of stories that happened along the way. What I want the film to encompass is footage from the ride, but then animation that brings in the comic book element to the film. We’ll hopefully be screening the film and selling the graphic novel next year.

This whole year has been on the move – taking photos, making films, and working with the festival. I’m here for just a week after Budapest before I go on tour with a band as their photographer across Canada. I haven’t seen much of Canada, so I’m excited. We’re going all the way across [the country] and ending up in Vancouver. It’s three bands – one is Australian, called An Horse,  as well as Cursive, and a New York band called Brand New. So it’ll be a fun couple of weeks.

Do you think documentaries like yours have an impact, either environmentally or culturally?

I think so. I come from an artist background. Mine is more about the art piece. I’m an avid cyclist and I definitely support it. But I’m really much more interested in artists that are bicyclists – their art piece revolves around cycling or the idea of it. At the festival we do an event called Joy Ride. It’s an art show with artists from all over the world that are involved in bikes. I just admire so many of those artists. When I do documentaries involved in that, it’s more about giving something back to them – doing a portrait about them and the work they do for bikes.

Kevin Cyr, the artist behind the camper bike, who Shaw profiled for her BFF documentary.

How did you end up getting involved with bicycling at all?

I grew up riding bikes – from road biking, mountain biking, BMXing, and track riding. I loved to be outside doing different things like that growing up. In Australia I heard about the Bicycle Film Festival in 2006 down in Melbourne. I went down to that and got really excited about the festival, and bike films. When I moved to New York I ended up getting in touch with them and volunteering with them for the festival. I’ve been helping them out since 2009. I love the festival, and the people I work with at the festival. They have really cemented me into bike culture. I have many thanks to the festival: the majority of my friends, and a lot of the things I do and work on are actually thanks to the festival.

Tell us more about the festival. 

Well it’s been in Toronto  a lot of times – this is the first year it hasn’t come here.  It’s a big celebration of art, music, film, all within the bike cluture and community. I always have such a great time at the festival, because it brings together such a tight community of people. But we also attract all sorts. We attract big name celebrities, and bike messengers, and commuters, and “weekend warriors” – what I call the lycra guys out on the weekend, and BMX riders – just anyone. It attracts such a broad range of people. So now I can go to different cities in the world and know people there, just because of the festival. At different festivals you see everyone hanging out and having a great time celebrating bicycles. It doesn’t exclude anyone.

In our most recent Youth and Employment Issue we asked all our profile subjects why they think youth should be hopeful for the future. So in keeping with that, what are your thoughts about why youth should be hopeful for the future?

I think the future is really exciting. I’m a big Sci-Fi fan and I get excited about what’s going to come and what’s around the corner. I think the most important thing for youth is that it’s more about creating the work for yourself. Especially with the job market the way it is. Just to be open-minded and passionate about what you really love to do, and then creating jobs within that area. Don’t just go to school and lock yourself off and say, okay this is all I know. Never stop learning. It’s really important that we continue to create stuff.

After the film festival is over, is there a way people can watch the film?

Yes – it’s continuing at all the BFF festivals around the world, but once they are all over it’ll be available online.

A few teaser images from Amelia's documentary.


Check out the Bicycle Film Festival website, designed by Amelia Shaw, for information about how to get involved. Or perhaps to arrange your fall travel plans to coincide with a BFF at one of the many cities still hosting the festival, and catch a screening of Camper Bike!

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