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Jacob Septimus, director of B.I.K.E. has worked with David Blaine and Mos Def

With hair wet from the misting rain on a overcast precipitous Spring day in Manhattan, Jacob Septimus peered through the window of the Trackstar bike shop in the city's downtown. With a quietly intelligent manner, Septimus talks about Anthony Howard, Black Label and film making... Here's what he had to say...

Gary: As I understand it, this is a film about a fellow who was trying to join a sub-culture group in bicycling.
Jacob Septimus: My friend Anthony Howard was trying to join Black Label last year and we followed his descent into the culture and into madness on his own part.

Gary: Let's talk a little about you, what's your background in filmmaking?
Jacob: I make music videos, I do TV, I'm doing a TV show right now actually. I'm somewhat selective but, I am not opposed to narrative films or commercial films either.

Gary: What lead you into the biking culture? Was this something you were involved in before your friend or did you come into this because of his involvement?
Jacob: I wasn't involved with bike culture before, you know I ride a bike and I have been on some Critical Mass rides but, I had seen Black Label around but it wasn't something that... I wasn't friendly with any of those guys. Anthony knew those guys from a while before and he was working with me on another project, a street basketball film. He showed me a tape of an event that went on in Williamsburg on the waterfront, and told me that he was friendly with a lot of these guys.

I am just fascinated with sub-culture in general so, we decided it would be interesting to see... He was interested in joining the club, what would transpire. We expected that he would be able to join the club. I didn't know how rigorous it was. I assumed that as with most of these things, you show up and you put in your time and you can join but, it proved not to be the case. So... this is what the film is about.

Jacob Septimus, director of B.I.K.E. has worked with David Blaine and Mos Def

Gary: Well as I understand it the Black Label is more than a bicycle club, it's almost a family, or a social unit, so if you would, speak to us a little bit about what you found out.
Jacob: Yeah it is a family, an extended family. It started in Minneapolis more than ten years ago and it was a bike club initially but also it became a family. A lot of the original members were homeless and a lot of the initial members didn't have an extended family so it became an extended family for them.

New York is slightly different, there are some members of the New York Club that were original Minneapolis members and some that had no knowledge of their ancestry so to speak and basically art school graduates who were also bicycle activists who thought that this was an interesting sub-culture to embrace. So the family in New York is somewhat less blood family than it is in Minneapolis, you know it is shared cultural values and ummm a lot of it is chemistry, whether they can hang with each other.

So without giving away too much of the film, it is like any family, any family of choice, that umm, your blood relatives you really can't choose but, who you hang with you can choose. They are selective in that sense, that they don't want just anyone in their club. A lot of the film is about that, the subtext of it is that clubs... you know the world is run by clubs... in the sense that they all define themselves by who they include and who they exclude, and you know that may not seem fair at first glance but, that's the way it is if you look at pretty much any social system. Any social group that has any strength has some sort of filtering system, those that they will and won't let in.



Gary: I guess you answered my next question which was about message...
Jacob: I want people to take their own message away from it. It is sort of complex and I think that some of what happens is people assume that there is a specific message in it that we are reaching a conclusion about bike culture in general, which I certainly am not. We followed a character and a group of characters for a year and this is what transpired. It is not necessarily a reflection on other bicyclists or the bike culture in general. The reason that there is some sensitivity to it is because it's a pristine sub-culture that hasn't been explored often and so the first few messages people think it is speaking for the whole bike movement but if you see the way the skate culture or hip hop developed, the Bicycle Film Festival or films like this are just the beginning of something that could take on a life of its own, as are the statements made by the film. We worked very hard to actually not make any particular statements, we just tried to remain even handed and just stick to the action as much as possible and just show the truth of what we saw.

Gary: The Truth of your observation.
Jacob: Yeah

Gary: Talk to me a little about the Festival. Did that occur to you later?
Jacob: Brendt Barbur approached us last year before we were finished and asked us if we wanted to show it. We didn't want to do that but, we would show it this year when it was finished and it's obviously a natural fit.

Our aim is to get this out to as wide an audience as possible. So in a sense showing it to a group mainly of bicyclists, I would think that many of the people would have seen the film already. Or even if they hadn't they'd have seen a lot of these situations or they'd know Black Label. They'd know Critical Mass, they'd have seen a lot of the footage of R&C and all that. So it's... Yeah, I mean the bicycle film festival is a natural venue because it is the core audience, but we're hoping that the Festival reaches out to a wider audience to people who are not... who don't know anything about the subculture.

I think that people are going to be very personal about it. It's going to be interesting, The Q&A I'm sure is going to be... I love a tough Q&A. I'm sure that a lot of the questions that are going to come from the audience are going to be heartfelt and passionate and may take issue with things in the film and I'm looking forward to them.

Gary: I've heard that there is a hint of controversy on the portrayal of Black Label.
Jacob: Whenever you go into a group of people that aren't used to any media treatment the expectations may be different than what the reality is. I would say this. They all knew Anthony before, he's made shorts and they were all self involved. From my experience, they all knew as we were going along that it was about his experience joining the club. We never hid that fact.

Jacob Septimus, director of B.I.K.E. has worked with David Blaine and Mos Def

Now if he had been admitted to the club, it would have been more about that, the social dynamic within the club and him being embraced by the club. The fact that they excluded him made it about why he wasn't in the club. Which was a decision that they made and I admire them for that decision because it took a lot of guts because they knew a film was being made about this and that the expectation was that he would join. The possibility that they would come across as hard asses, they still stuck to their guns and said, look he's not material for our club.

I think they come across very well. The question is whether the amount of screen time dedicated to them as opposed to the time dedicated to Anthony, we were trying to tell a story. The characters in the story... I think like Doyle, Doyle is a very prominent character in Black Label, and people had issues with, "Why are you focusing on Doyle rather than the rest of the club?" You know this wasn't a yearbook photo. We weren't trying to spend equal time with every member of the club. We gravitated to the people that were most interesting, most dramatic and I think that is what any film maker would do.

We showed it to Black Label and members came over to me who loved it while others came over who had issues. That's what you expect. I mean all good films are controversial and it is not something you shy away from.


Jacob Septimus, director of B.I.K.E. has worked with David Blaine and Mos Def

With hair wet from the misting rain on a overcast precipitous Spring day in Manhattan, Jacob Septimus peered through the window of the Trackstar bike shop in the city's downtown. With a quietly intelligent manner, Septimus talks about Anthony Howard, Black Label and film making... Here's what he had to say...

Gary: As I understand it, this is a film about a fellow who was trying to join a sub-culture group in bicycling.
Jacob Septimus: My friend Anthony Howard was trying to join Black Label last year and we followed his descent into the culture and into madness on his own part.

Gary: Let's talk a little about you, what's your background in filmmaking?
Jacob: I make music videos, I do TV, I'm doing a TV show right now actually. I'm somewhat selective but, I am not opposed to narrative films or commercial films either.

Gary: What lead you into the biking culture? Was this something you were involved in before your friend or did you come into this because of his involvement?
Jacob: I wasn't involved with bike culture before, you know I ride a bike and I have been on some Critical Mass rides but, I had seen Black Label around but it wasn't something that... I wasn't friendly with any of those guys. Anthony knew those guys from a while before and he was working with me on another project, a street basketball film. He showed me a tape of an event that went on in Williamsburg on the waterfront, and told me that he was friendly with a lot of these guys.

I am just fascinated with sub-culture in general so, we decided it would be interesting to see... He was interested in joining the club, what would transpire. We expected that he would be able to join the club. I didn't know how rigorous it was. I assumed that as with most of these things, you show up and you put in your time and you can join but, it proved not to be the case. So... this is what the film is about.

Jacob Septimus, director of B.I.K.E. has worked with David Blaine and Mos Def

Gary: Well as I understand it the Black Label is more than a bicycle club, it's almost a family, or a social unit, so if you would, speak to us a little bit about what you found out.
Jacob: Yeah it is a family, an extended family. It started in Minneapolis more than ten years ago and it was a bike club initially but also it became a family. A lot of the original members were homeless and a lot of the initial members didn't have an extended family so it became an extended family for them.

New York is slightly different, there are some members of the New York Club that were original Minneapolis members and some that had no knowledge of their ancestry so to speak and basically art school graduates who were also bicycle activists who thought that this was an interesting sub-culture to embrace. So the family in New York is somewhat less blood family than it is in Minneapolis, you know it is shared cultural values and ummm a lot of it is chemistry, whether they can hang with each other.

So without giving away too much of the film, it is like any family, any family of choice, that umm, your blood relatives you really can't choose but, who you hang with you can choose. They are selective in that sense, that they don't want just anyone in their club. A lot of the film is about that, the subtext of it is that clubs... you know the world is run by clubs... in the sense that they all define themselves by who they include and who they exclude, and you know that may not seem fair at first glance but, that's the way it is if you look at pretty much any social system. Any social group that has any strength has some sort of filtering system, those that they will and won't let in.



Gary: I guess you answered my next question which was about message...
Jacob: I want people to take their own message away from it. It is sort of complex and I think that some of what happens is people assume that there is a specific message in it that we are reaching a conclusion about bike culture in general, which I certainly am not. We followed a character and a group of characters for a year and this is what transpired. It is not necessarily a reflection on other bicyclists or the bike culture in general. The reason that there is some sensitivity to it is because it's a pristine sub-culture that hasn't been explored often and so the first few messages people think it is speaking for the whole bike movement but if you see the way the skate culture or hip hop developed, the Bicycle Film Festival or films like this are just the beginning of something that could take on a life of its own, as are the statements made by the film. We worked very hard to actually not make any particular statements, we just tried to remain even handed and just stick to the action as much as possible and just show the truth of what we saw.

Gary: The Truth of your observation.
Jacob: Yeah

Gary: Talk to me a little about the Festival. Did that occur to you later?
Jacob: Brendt Barbur approached us last year before we were finished and asked us if we wanted to show it. We didn't want to do that but, we would show it this year when it was finished and it's obviously a natural fit.

Our aim is to get this out to as wide an audience as possible. So in a sense showing it to a group mainly of bicyclists, I would think that many of the people would have seen the film already. Or even if they hadn't they'd have seen a lot of these situations or they'd know Black Label. They'd know Critical Mass, they'd have seen a lot of the footage of R&C and all that. So it's... Yeah, I mean the bicycle film festival is a natural venue because it is the core audience, but we're hoping that the Festival reaches out to a wider audience to people who are not... who don't know anything about the subculture.

I think that people are going to be very personal about it. It's going to be interesting, The Q&A I'm sure is going to be... I love a tough Q&A. I'm sure that a lot of the questions that are going to come from the audience are going to be heartfelt and passionate and may take issue with things in the film and I'm looking forward to them.

Gary: I've heard that there is a hint of controversy on the portrayal of Black Label.
Jacob: Whenever you go into a group of people that aren't used to any media treatment the expectations may be different than what the reality is. I would say this. They all knew Anthony before, he's made shorts and they were all self involved. From my experience, they all knew as we were going along that it was about his experience joining the club. We never hid that fact.

Jacob Septimus, director of B.I.K.E. has worked with David Blaine and Mos Def

Now if he had been admitted to the club, it would have been more about that, the social dynamic within the club and him being embraced by the club. The fact that they excluded him made it about why he wasn't in the club. Which was a decision that they made and I admire them for that decision because it took a lot of guts because they knew a film was being made about this and that the expectation was that he would join. The possibility that they would come across as hard asses, they still stuck to their guns and said, look he's not material for our club.

I think they come across very well. The question is whether the amount of screen time dedicated to them as opposed to the time dedicated to Anthony, we were trying to tell a story. The characters in the story... I think like Doyle, Doyle is a very prominent character in Black Label, and people had issues with, "Why are you focusing on Doyle rather than the rest of the club?" You know this wasn't a yearbook photo. We weren't trying to spend equal time with every member of the club. We gravitated to the people that were most interesting, most dramatic and I think that is what any film maker would do.

We showed it to Black Label and members came over to me who loved it while others came over who had issues. That's what you expect. I mean all good films are controversial and it is not something you shy away from.


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