This year at Reno Cyclocross Nationals, first-time director Drew Coleman of Portland, Oregon set out to capture the state of U.S. cyclocross on video in one day. The project certainly sounds ambitious, even if that description is a bit dramatic.
In “State of Cyclocross,” Coleman filmed each of the five championship races on Sunday in Reno using a 1983 Canon Super 8 camera. He then solicited commentary on the sport and where it is in the U.S. from an all-star cast of voices with a variety of perspectives on the sport.
Coleman then combined the visuals and audio into what he calls “a meditation on the sport of cyclocross.”
Coleman described his goal for the project. “[The film] explores [cyclocross’] counter-cultural past, its existence today and what needs to be done to sustain it moving forward. Incorporating voiceover by multiple current and former professionals and national champions, it was filmed in Super 8 in a single day in January at the United States Cyclocross National Championships in Reno.”
Coleman gave us the chance to watch the film and take a trip back to that memorable Sunday in the Reno desert while looking forward to the future of the sport here in the States.
The State of Cyclocross
Coleman’s State of Cyclocross film was certainly an ambitious project for a first-time director. Coleman is a college-level English and Film Studies teacher who practices what he teaches, focusing primarily on cyclocross.
The backbone of the film is video shot on his 1983 Canon 814 XLS Super 8 camera during the Sunday races—Junior Men, Junior/U23 Women, U23 Men, Elite Women and Elite Men—at the 2018 Reno Cyclocross Nationals. Still images shot on vintage cameras by Michael Jasinki and Patrick Means also weave into the visual presentation.
For the cinephiles out there, Coleman’s decision to shoot the film all on Super 8 likely makes the project intriguing. Provided it worked, of course.
“I decided to go all in,” Coleman wrote on his website. “One day of shooting. All on film. Crowdfund for the cassettes … it might work, it might be a disaster.”
Coleman ended up shooting on a total of 14 cassettes, 7 color and 7 black and white. “Shooting with digital is an expression of our time: consumable, easy, discard or keep based on whimsy; a lack of intention and evaluation,” he wrote. “I needed to divorce myself from this and really evaluate location and framing and movement and, especially, time. I had a finite number of frames to use. I had to use them well.”
The second aspect of the film is the commentary. Meditation on the state of ’cross comes from an impressive list of current and former athletes and personalities involved with the sport here in the U.S.
Given Coleman’s Oregon home, the list is a bit biased toward the Pacific Northwest, but it includes: Beth Ann Orton, Laura Winberry, Erik Tonkin, Stephen Hyde, Molly Cameron, Ryan Trebon, Cody Kaiser and Bill Schieken.
The commentary starts with Orton, Winberry and Tonkin talking about what drew them to cyclocross.
The discussion then moves to talk about where the sport is currently at. It covers the downfall of the USGP series, the one-year rise of the US Cup-CX, the transition from a counter-cultural sport to a more “serious” contest of athleticism and the difficulty—and importance—of finding a way to fund Elite ’cross to make it more of a profession than an endeavor of passion.
The State of the State of Cyclocross
I will admit that I have been waiting to see how the State of Cyclocross project turned out. As Bill Schieken says in the film, Nationals is a bit like a class reunion for the media as well, so we were all aware of what Coleman was hoping to accomplish when we were back in Reno.
The imagery in State of Cyclocross is beautiful. I can only imagine how happy Coleman is with how his Super 8 film experiment turned out.
On his website, Coleman said that he chose Super 8 film in part because its quality matches the dirty, gritty nature of cyclocross. After watching the film, I agree.
The course in Reno was not as muddy and ugly as Hartford, Asheville or Austin, to name a few recent Nationals, but it did have plenty of tough features that the film captures well. Those who have been to Nationals know that each event has its own character and flavor and it was fun to take a trip back to Reno via this film’s images.
If you shoot video or are into video, you will likely be interested in the film for the Super 8 footage alone. The still images shot by Jasinski and Means with vintage lenses also blend seamlessly into the visual layout.
In my opinion, where State of Cyclocross really stands out is how the commentary blends with the beautiful visuals.
The film starts relatively slow, with a visual treat of Reno Nationals images. The meditation starts with athletes talking about how they got hooked on cyclocross. We have all likely seen or heard this kind of presentation, so it does not necessarily break any new ground.
The film really excels is by getting athletes current and former to be, for lack of a better word, real about where cyclocross is in the U.S.
There are several threads the film covers in a short period of time, and the incisive commentary provides a lot of food for thought about the sport we love. Can U.S. cyclocross be successful without a series? Should we focus less on the World Cups and more on using the money for a U.S. series? Can a sport survive at the professional level if athletes cannot make a living doing it?
I was impressed that the folks affiliated with cyclocross were willing to offer their honest opinions and embrace shades of grey. It certainly makes for compelling viewing.
In total, State of Cyclocross is a really cool film. The video and photography are beautiful, and the commentary from an impressive group of cyclocross folks provides a very real look at where U.S. cyclocross is in 2018.
The visuals with the thoughtful meditations work together perfectly, and at the end of the film, you’ll likely find yourself wishing Coleman had another 14 cassettes of Super 8 film to make the film twice as long.
How to Watch State of Cyclocross
Right now, State of Cyclocross is available for viewing via public screenings. Screenings are scheduled in Bend, Bellingham, Washington and Hood River, Oregon next month.