Bikelordz is a mini-documentary highlighting the BMX bike culture in Accra, Ghana through the eyes of a handful of self-taught, local scene stars. If you think the X Games are as good as it gets, wait until you see what these guys can do! Extreme sports in an extreme locale with extreme attitude. The film hasn’t been officially released, but director Mikey Hart let me pick his brain on filming in Ghana, biker battles and more!
Why Accra? I found myself living there to play and archive highlife music and write music for my band, King Expressers. It had been a dream of mine to live in a place that birthed so much African, Caribbean and American music and culture, so I went there. Accra is iconic in general though, going back to the 50’s and Kwame Nkrumah. It’s always had a playful interaction with non-African cultures—big bands used to be cool, now its hip hop. Those cross-cultural connections can lead to a lot of situations that are at once familiar and foreign: like dancing to “Bump N’ Grind” played over a sound system that’s run off a car battery.
How did you get turned on to the biker culture there?
That was a great accident actually—I was checking out a soccer game in downtown Accra and I saw this crowd gathering around a group of guys doing bike tricks along with the nearby DJ’s music (there’s always speakers blasting music somewhere nearby in Accra). Eventually the whole street shut down ‘cause the crowd grew so big, that people stopped up in the post-game traffic just decided to leave their cars in the street and see what the commotion was about. Some young kids appeared with benches and we had an impromptu grandstand right there. The bikers worked the crowd like pros and kept the party going with each display. I approached them as the crowds started to die down and we exchanged numbers.
How did the film come about? Is this your first? How did you end up choosing the bikers you profiled in the film?
This is my first film. If I were in the U.S. I might have contacted some more experienced filmmaker friends and asked to just do the music or something. But those guys were thousands of miles away and it was important to me that this subculture gets exposed to a wider audience.
My approach to filming was to keep a camera in my backpack and set up meet-ups, events here and there. The guys I ended up featuring in the film were members of a crew that kind of centered around the outspoken Razak. They were always down to hit the street and put a show together and they seemed the most serious. Razak’s brothers were all acrobats who made their living doing shows, Rashid (a.k.a. Blackfire) lived alone in the Kaneshie neighborhood at 16 yrs. old, and Bush (named after George W. Bush cause he was the “president of Accra riders”) was always riding his mountain bike, in flip flops, with the front wheel removed, down the nightclub row. A really cool thing about this culture is how everyone seems to be bringing someone younger up at the same time as they’re being brought up by someone who’s their senior. It’s very communal, collective.
Why was it important to tell this story?
It’s important to me for a few reasons:
--To show that the desire to live by your own rules for your art, skill, whatever you want to call it, is universal.
--To show a film set in Africa that showcases how dope African culture is, completely independent of the commonly held notion that Africa is just the sum of its problems.
--To show a seriously swagged out street style of biking that, to me, is unique to Ghana and incorporates music, dance, and acrobatics to a great degree.
How did the Accra community react to the film being made?
Well obviously the riders and their family were stoked ‘cause the notion of an American coming around with a film camera was full of possibilities and a bit validating, I guess. However, folks in Accra often aren’t really excited when a stranger takes their picture. So there was a bunch of different things that could happen once the camera came out—it had the ability to amp the party up ‘cause people could rep for the camera, but then again it could go the other way... one guy got so mad at me he chased me with a stick and got a lick in.
A big part of this project to me, though, is getting DVD’s made and returning to Ghana to get back up with the Bikelordz guys. I think there’s this notion over there that people come to Africa, take footage, and then go back to their countries and enjoy untold profits while the Africans are left none the richer.
That of course isn’t the case here. We’re doing a Kickstarter right now in order to make DVD’s, get sponsorships and bike gear, and plane tickets to bring it back to Ghana and film a follow-up. When the movie debuted some serious NYC riders approached me about their interest in going to Ghana to scope the scene and do a sort of riding exchange, so that got me working on the plan to actually do that. If you’re into what Bikelordz is about, show us some Kickstarter love so we can bring it back to Ghana.
Have the people of Accra seen the finished film? If so, what type of response did you get from them?
The finished film has only shown once in NYC to a great response from a street-biker heavy audience. That’s what the Kickstarter campaign is about, to get over to Ghana and do some events for the film and with the riders over there and give them a stack of DVD’s to sell at shows. My hope is we’re laying a few bricks in building the Ghana bike scene. I'm also looking to screen the film at as many events (in the U.S. and beyond) that I can.
When will the film be officially released in the U.S.? Will you do that online exclusively, or will there be a DVD?
It will be released online as a download and as a DVD which will include loads of extra footage, mostly trick sequences set to music but also some amazing stuff that just didn’t fit in to the film proper. Release for a film like this usually comes after exhaustive festival viewings but I’m eager to get it out there ‘cause it’s important for me to make it available to Ghanaians and to hook the Bikelordz guys in Ghana up with a product to sell.
What direction were you planning on going with this film originally? Has that changed?
We’ve pretty much kept the original direction, if a little bit more focused. My first hope was to give a more panoramic view of life in Accra and really talk about the place and its history, and try to spend a little more time on the homegrown, community-taught aspect of BMX culture in Accra. We had a much longer cut that spent extra time trying to illustrate those points, but eventually the editor Toby Arturi, Brendt Barbur (the Bicycle Film Fest director), and I realized that you get a sense of place and a context without laboring over history and backstory. So we decided to let the film’s subjects speak for themselves. And I think they do.
Do you keep in touch with any of the bikers from the film?
The internet is an amazing thing. We are in touch via Skype on a regular basis. (I Skype call them on their cell phones). They don’t let me forget that they’re ready for some bike swag.
It may be early on to ask, with Bikelordz just getting its feet off the ground, but can you tell us anything about the next film?
The immediate plan is to film a follow-up involving the reception of bicycle gear and Bikelordz DVD’s in Ghana. My hope, as I’ve mentioned, is to get some pro-riders from other parts of the world to convene in Ghana and organize an official event in Accra. I think the exchange of cultures would be incredible to film. As the trailer has made the rounds, many folks have gotten in touch with tips about regional BMX scenes in other parts of the world. So though it’s much further down the road, my colleagues and I are looking into investigating more scenes!
Finally, in Bikelordz, two of the opposing crew leaders, Razak and Scooby, seemed to have some fierce competition going...did they ever battle? Both seemed pretty ready for it!
Haha…there was a day that included a pretty heated “battle” that went beyond the bike trick arena. Obviously, I had to put down the camera to break that one up. That’s real beef, based in neighborhood loyalty and pride in their own abilities.
For more information on Bikelordz, check out the official website. As Mikey mentioned, funds are currently being raised for a worldwide release of Bikelordz and to purchase equipment for the Accra bikers. If you’d like to get involved, check out the film’s Kickstarter page.