Jacob Seigel Boettner’s film “With My Own Two Wheels” is considered a bonus offering at next week’s “Wild and Scenic Film Festival” because it will be shown free.
But the film is also a bonus for other reasons. It will be shown at 5 p.m. Sept. 14 at Petro Theatre at Montana State University Billings.
Boettner, who filmed the 44-minute documentary with his brother Isaac and pal Ian Wexler, became a filmmaker not to make a buck but to keep a promise.
The 24-year-old Northern California man majored in peace and conflict studies in college and was looking for an engaging way to communicate with his generation. He vowed never to create something so dry that only his parents would want to wade through it.
After working in Rwanda on a bike project as part of his studies at the University of California-Berkley and racing and riding bikes his entire life, Jacob turned to bikes because he believes they are part of a social revolution. This film turned out so well, Jacob and Isaac are in the process of creating another documentary about the culture of bikes.
“My brother and I both got into film in middle school and high school. Whenever we could make a film instead of writing a paper growing up, we did,” Jacob said. “I didn’t want to write a 40-page paper that nobody would want to read other than my parents.”
To avoid beating viewers over the head with their message, the Boettners added humor and kept the focus on telling stories. They divvied up the duties according to which brother had the best skills.
“Working with a sibling, we have our moments,” Jacob said. “We figured out who’s better at what. He’s better at the camera work and I’m better at producing and getting things organized.”
“With My Own Two Wheels” tells the story of five individuals who are using bikes to make a better life for themselves and their communities. The subjects live in regions that are far apart, yet that common thread of using bikes to improve their world binds them together.
Fred is a health care worker in Zambia who uses his World Bicycle Relief bike to reach twice as many of his patients. Bharati is a teenager in India who uses her bike to access education. Mirriam, a disabled Ghanaian woman, works on bicycles to escape from the stigma attached to disabled people in her community. Carlos, a farmer in Guatemala, bikes to reduce the impact on the environment, and Sharkey, a young man in California, uses his bike to escape the lure of gangs.
Their stories are accompanied by a classroom companion to the film that the Boettners created to help teachers share the film with their students. Jacob spent the past year traveling to many of the 100 cities where the film has been shown. He will not be in Billings because of demands of producing his new film following six high school students through a competition mountain bike season in Northern California.
“We didn’t think ‘With My Own Two Wheels’ would go this far. We thought we’d do a few screenings and then I would go on to grad school, but I spent the whole year on the road with this film,” Jacob said.
Jacob believes that the film's strength is that it engages and inspires. Otherwise, what's the point of making documentary films? But Jacob encourages audiences to discuss the film with each other, their teacher or the filmmaker.
“When I was in high school, the way a film was used is the teacher put it in and left the room. As a filmmaker, I really dislike that. When your piece is just thrown in the player and there is no lesson in it — the students' time is wasted. It is all about engaging the students,” Jacob said.
For more information about the classroom companion to “With My Own Two Wheels,” go to www.withmyowntwowheels.com.