Indie Filmmaker - Interview with Jennifer
The crowded room hummed with anticipation. I sat in a corner, huddled with my fellow college students, and as the lights dimmed, our excited voices went quiet. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Jennifer Hardacker, one of the film professors at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. Tonight was the Student Film Screening, the long-awaited debut of her hardworking student's film projects. I studied Jennifer's face in the dim light, and I must admit that my first thought was: She has the coolest job ever.
I didn't know at the time that Jennifer was a fellow cyclist. Just two years later, she'd make a short documentary called The Wind In Our Hair, featuring female bicycle riders. And now, in January of 2018, I have the great pleasure of interviewing Jennifer about her passion for bicycles, filmmaking, her husband, her kids, and how all these love stories intertwine.
How did you fall in love with bicycling?
In the early 80’s, my mother was riding a 10-speed to work almost every day in the small Indiana town where I grew up. She encouraged family bike rides, and some of my best memories are of mother-daughter bike rides.
Sadly, my mother died when I was 15. The summer that she died I rode my bike everywhere, and that gave me a kind of inner strength. Through the years, I would ride avidly and then life would get in the way. I biked throughout college, and did a lot of cycling in New York City, both commuting and for pleasure.
"The summer that [my mother] died I rode my bike everywhere, and that gave me a kind of inner strength."
Once I had children, I didn’t get on a bike for several years until I went through a divorce. At the point, I bought a bike trailer and toted my kids around, and when they were with their dad, I biked away my sadness. Eventually I started dating an avid cyclist who encouraged me and helped me get my first road bike. I am not an athletic person, and pushing myself to go farther and farther on my bike gave me a sense of pride in my physical self that I had not previously had. In general, cycling has made me feel more self-empowered and confident.
"Pushing myself to go farther gave me a sense of pride in my physical self that I had not previously had."
What role does your bicycle play in your life?
It is my sanity-stabilizer, my mood-enhancer, and my mental-wellness-tweaker.
What are some challenges you’ve experienced with cycling?
It took me a while to not psych myself out about hills. I’d see a hill and I would just think, “you’re not going to be able to do this.” But I found if I just kept pedaling, eventually I could crest almost any hill. I also have a hard time motivating myself to cycle in the cold, rainy, Northwest winters.
How did you fall in love with filmmaking?
When I was a deep, soulful, (slightly emo) teenager, I did a lot of creative writing. When I was 15, I saw David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” and this really put the filmmaking bug in me because it was such a different, very visual kind of filmmaking, and it seemed that, more than words on paper, I was drawn to this visual storytelling. I really like that I can make films that come from a very personal place, and that an audience can connect to them and feel that their own experience is reflected.
"I like that I can make films that come from a very personal place, and an audience can connect to them."
What inspired your film, The Wind In Our Hair?
The answer to this question is a continuation of the “how I fell in love with cycling” story—one of my first getaways with the person I mention in that story (who is now my husband) was a bike adventure trip to Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands, WA). We left our car parked and took our bikes on the ferry to get to Orcas. The bike ride from the ferry terminal to our B&B was not that many miles (9 miles, I think), but we had packs and the route included a great deal of elevation gain—more than I had endeavored up to that point.
There were a few times on that trip that I was feeling very challenged, but then we arrived in the little city and had a cold drink, I felt so accomplished and proud that I didn’t give up. I told my partner right then that I could see myself continuing to train and eventually doing a century (riding 100 miles in one day), and then I would make a film about it! Three years after that moment, I did the century and made the film.
"I told my partner right then that I could see myself continuing to train... and then I would make a film about it!"
What surprised you during the making of this film?
I think I was surprised at how easy it was to talk to everyone and how willing folks were to participate.
What is one of your favorite memories from conducting the interviews for the film?
One of my favorite memories was indeed the day I interviewed the younger girls. They were so cute and self-possessed, and they said the things that made me feel like I was tapping into something with the film.
"I wasn’t sure what younger girls would say about riding, but I was cheering inside when they said things like, 'It makes me feel like I can do anything.' I couldn’t have scripted it better!"
Why was it important to include interviews with children as well as adults?
One of the “messages” of the film that I wanted to get across, is that anybody, any age, any fitness level, any background, can get something good out of riding. I wasn’t sure what younger girls would say about riding, but I was cheering inside when they said things like, “It makes me feel like I can do anything.” I couldn’t have scripted it better! And I hope their families will encourage them to keep riding. Kids who ride will become adults who ride.
How have audiences reacted to The Wind In Our Hair?
One of the great pleasures I’ve had with the film is screening it for biking groups and having everyone just feel a sense of camaraderie and joy about biking. I’ve been able to travel with the film all over the country, and although I didn’t get to attend in person, the film has also been screened for bike groups in England.
Do you have future screenings of the film planned?
I’ve included a list of the film festival and bike group screenings the film has had (readers: scroll to the very end for complete list). The film is now available to screen online, so I hope that bike groups and cyclists will continue to share it with folks they want to encourage to get riding.
Do you have any insights about why men outnumber women 2-1 as bicyclists in the United States? (This number is much more gender-balanced in countries like Germany and the Netherlands)
The culture around cycling can get a bit “bro.” For example, some bike groups are all about stats and outdoing one another. Bike shops can be intimidating, especially when male employees can seem a little condescending if you don’t speak all the technological jargon about fancy derailleurs and such things.
Also, the biking infrastructure is so much better in the countries you mention. It makes such a difference to one’s feeling of safety when one is riding a route that has been designated a bike route with bike lanes and even better, a bike right-of-way.
If we assume that women are biologically more risk-averse than men, how can we help more women overcome their fear in order to ride bicycles?
I advocate for all-women cycling groups, especially those that meet women where they’re at. One of the subjects in the film, April Streeter, has a fantastic group in Portland called Women On Wheels. When they go on rides, they talk about where the problem places are going to be—where there will be more traffic, or difficult intersections, or steep inclines and so on. This helps the women feel mentally prepared to take these challenges on. There is also a feeling of safety riding in groups because you’re more visible and you also feel supported if anything should go wrong. I think once women experience group rides like this, they’ll build confidence to ride alone.
Riding bikes is a more exposed, vulnerable method of transportation than driving a car. What are the pros and cons of this vulnerability?
The con of the vulnerability is your personal safety. I love to ride the country rides, but on at least one of two rides, I’ll get buzzed by some giant truck. This makes me angry, as if the driver’s sole intent is to remind me of my comparable vulnerability and thus claim the road for vehicles.
I don’t know if it’s really vulnerability, but there’s a feeling of freedom and exhilaration to ride a country road on a bike rather than driving that same road in a car. I hoped to evoke that exhilaration with the title of the film, The Wind in Our Hair. Contrary to some comments I’ve gotten, I do not advocate riding without a helmet—maybe I should have called it, “the wind through my helmet.”
What helps you be a better cyclist?
Pilates is great for increasing core strength. Core strength is surprisingly important on a bike, especially for longer distances. (I also think chamois butter is a revelation for longer rides.)
Where do you see bicycle culture heading in the next twenty years?
I really think cities will grow with a focus on biking infrastructure. I think we’ll get close to promoting bike cultures like those in Coppenhagen and Amsterdam where everybody rides to get around.
"Why is riding bicycles so important?
Self-empowerment, mental health, community."
Film Festival Screenings of The Wind in Our Hair:
Best of Oregon, “Dramatic Film” Oregon International Film Festival (OIFF), Eugene, OR (September ’15)
Columbia Gorge International Film Festival, Big Bear, CA, (September ’16)
American Public Health Association Film Festival, Denver, CO (October ’17)
Kansas City Film Festival, Kansas City, MO (April 16)
Maine Outdoor Film Festival, Multiple cities (September ’15)
Let’s All Be Free Film Festival, London, England (October ’15)
Bicycle Colorado, screening at Campus Cycles Bike Shop, Denver, CO (October ’16)
Front Range Community College, Larimer, Fort Collins, CO (October ’16)
Bike Fort Collins, screening at Wolverine Farm Publishing, Fort Collins, CO
Women and Cycling Conference 2016, Herefordshire Council and W.E. Cycle, Hereford, United Kingdom (May ’16)
Ride Like A Girl, screening at Western BikeWorks, Tigard, OR (May ‘16)
Bike Pittsburgh, screening as part of the Women & Biking Forum, Pittsburgh, PA (April ’16)
Ladies First, screening at First Creek Middle School, Tacoma, WA (April ’16)
Women Bike Missoula, screening at Imagination Brewing in Missoula, MT (Feb. ’16)
Women Bike Chicago, screening at Greenline Wheels in Oak Park, IL (Feb. ’16)
Velofemmes, screening at B Sharp Café in Tacoma, WA (August ’15)
Women Bike Chicago, screenings Heritage General Store and Women And Children First Bookstore in Chicao (July 2015)
FEED Arts, Culture, Etc, Community Center, Kankakee, IL (August ’15)
GEARS (Greater Eugene Area Riders) at Hilyard Community Center, Eugene, OR (June ’15)
SWIM Team in Training, Western BikeWorks, Portland, OR (November 14) and at ADAPT Training, Beaverton, OR (January 15)