The Bikes of Wrath

Want to suffer like Steinbeck? Don’t miss this cycling documentary that dives deep into the heart of America.

Sometimes an international trip can put things in perspective, and leave it to a world premiere to give that viewpoint a voice. “The Bikes of Wrath” feature film showed publicly for the first time this past April at Five Point Adventure Film Festival in Carbondale, Colorado.

The movie follows five Australians as they attempt to cycle 30 days for 1,600 miles from Sallisaw, Oklahoma, to Bakersfield, California, retracing the route taken by the Joad family—characters in the John Steinbeck novel The Grapes of Wrath. The Aussies set out to survive on $420 (the modern-day equivalent of the Joad’s $18 in the 1930s) and whatever their musical performances could yield.

The one hour and thirty seven minute documentary proved to be a true highlight at Five Point this year, and four of the five in the group attended the festival, including producers and directors Cameron Ford and Charlie Turnbull. And to coincide with the theme of the weekend this year “Our Stories, Our Lands,” portions of the footage were filmed on public land.

The film took on a lighthearted tone while effectively exploring themes that reflect Steinbeck’s novel, including migration, inequality, and America as the perceived land of opportunity—all documented and produced from the lens of visitors to this country.

What the group encountered on their journey was a great deal of challenge, equally matched by positive interactions of humanity and hospitality throughout.

“It revitalized human connection for me,” said Ford at a Q&A session following the world premier of the film. “At a time when everyone is on their phones and their laptops, we go and attempt this remarkably insurmountable trip and found the generosity of every single person who came out to help us along the journey—that human connection. The task that’s too great then becomes achievable with the act of many and the kindness of many and the hope of many, and that’s what I am taking from it more than anything else.”

The film begs the question: Has America progressed in terms of the wealth gap, immigration and the American dream, since Steinbeck wrote his novel?

The answer is still to be determined. “Everything is a lot more complicated and complex than you might originally think,” says Turnbull. “Particularly with stereotypes and what the American South is like, what Texas is like, and notions held in those places.”

The film served as a good way for Turnbull to get out of his own bubble. “Those preconceived ideas got blown away pretty quickly for me,” he says. “I hope it shows through in the film that things are complicated, but overall people are really generous and they want to help each other.”

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—Kim Fuller 

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