Two Portland filmmakers detail a queer bicycle journey

In Portland the queer community and the bike community are inextricably linked. Arts, culture, and film overlap with both. So the latest project from Sampo Films run by Nick Peterson and openly queer partner Mary DeFreese is quintessentially west coast LGBT.

Championed by prominent gay filmmaker Gus Van Sant, the duo’s first several films were shorts that, at 20 to 40 minutes, were difficult to place in either the short or feature space. But soon they brought their cinematically beautiful films — all shot in 16mm to the feature space. Their new film, A Field Guide to November Days, is their second full-length feature and is very experimental.

There are splashes of red into every shot and the project features very little dialogue, instead focusing on the intensity of silence and the power of color. It was also filmed almost entirely by bike.

Here’s the trailer:

Field Guide follows the partnership of two bike-loving Portland hipsters, Matt and Natalie (Joe Haege and Briana Ledford), who engage in various queer relationships. Here’s the plot description:

…recently separated from each other, [Matt and Natalie] resume their relationship after a chance meeting. Passion clouds their perception and they soon fall back into destructive patterns. Further complicating the situation, they are each exploring ideas about their own mortality.

DeFreese expresses frustration that even though Sampo movies are produced by and feature gay and lesbian characters, the LGBT media do not often see their films as extrovertly queer. She aims to portray her protagonists as whole humans, “…people who exist without explanation.”

To this end, Field Guide is extremely successful. It is so successful that I often felt like I wanted to get to know these complex characters better. A bit more background could have made it easier to relate to Matt and Natalie, both of whom exemplify a lifestyle that should be intimately familiar to urban 20 and 30-somethings.

But if personality is somewhat lacking in the film itself, Peterson and DeFreese are more than making up for it by putting their own selves square in the middle of their distribution and PR. As of June 10, they embarked on an epic 10 city west coast film tour completely by bike. Beginning in Vancouver, BC, they have screenings in all the major cities of the coast as well as several smaller towns. They are chronicling their adventures, which include leading rides in several stops as well as asking fans to join them on various legs of the trip, with a media rich blog.

Already in full swing these extremely detailed posts give a rich insight into the attitudes of the filmmakers and how they synthesize their love of DIY film and bicycles. As we talked over brunch a mere two days before the tour was set to begin DeFreese was extremely animated as she explained their processes including building their own dolly system out of roller skates and PVC piping, or used a spy cam to view the shot while filming by bike, none of which comes out as anything less than exceptionally professional in the final product.

Though the most excitement is sure to come out during their screenings, this blog aims to show at least a little bit of how A Field Guide to November Days aims to be a radically innovative queer, experimental, bike-filmed feature.

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