Well-spoked | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
Todd Martin considered himself a liberal -- definitely more liberal than his parents, themselves a couple of lefties. But he had to recalibrate after the Thanksgiving he spent with members of Bicycle InterCommunity Action and Salvage.

Martin, then a film student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, got a fresh perspective on the holiday while visiting the Tucson-based collective in November 2000. "I never really thought of Thanksgiving as being a celebration of genocide of Native Americans," he says. "I definitely thought about things differently after that."

He was sufficiently intrigued that less than a year later he left school for several months to document the collective. Martin will screen his 45-minute video BICAS at the Tue., Oct. 14, Film Kitchen. Also screening are recent shorts by local filmmaker Olivia Ciummo.

Based right in Tucson's tiny downtown, BICAS salvages and reconditions old bicycles. For its socially committed members, promoting self-propelled two-wheeled transport in a gas-guzzling society -- as well as making art out of bike parts -- is a form of activism. Members live communally, work with the group Food Not Bombs to feed the homeless, and reject a consumer lifestyle as unsustainable. "The revolution," one collective member says in BICAS, "will not be motorized."

"I had never heard of anything like this before," says Martin. "Everything about their lifestyle was really incredible."

While shooting BICAS, the Cleveland native lived in a tent; moreover, he learned that like his hosts he could survive on the $50 he made working one day a week. At RIT, Martin had felt socially isolated and alienated by the technically oriented film curriculum. At BICAS, for the first time he felt part of a community; he also built confidence in his filmmaking skills. "I didn't realize I was into documentary until I went out and made one," he says.

By weird coincidence, his first day of shooting was Sept. 11, 2001. In the weeks following, he noted a stark contrast between the flag-waving elsewhere in Tucson and the way BICAS members let their actions announce their ideals: "They talked the talk and walk the walk."

If Todd Martin's creative epiphany required temporarily leaving film school, Olivia Ciummo's took enrolling. Studying film at Point Park College, the Dormont native took classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, where staffers introduced her to the world of experimental film. "They just showed me some of the most mindblowing things, like Stan Brakhage and Jan Svankmajer," she says.

Ciummo, who graduated in the spring, now has her own short films: The Unexpected End of Formula humorously explores parallels between the history of physics and the history of filmmaking. A Phone Call from Planet Earth comments wryly on the burden of student loans. And Bikes offers a lighthearted guide for motorists on sharing the road.

She's also now teaching at Filmmakers herself. Her interest in breaking down stereotypes in film -- especially in the depiction of women -- drives her classes in media literacy, in which she teaches students how to interpret what they see on screen much as they would words on a page. "I just want to open up doors for people," says Ciummo. "I think there needs to be a more diverse voice in filmmaking."

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