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Al Jazeera showcases local documentary

January 28, 2013

over_the_wheel

On Monday, January 28, Al Jazeera will screen a documentary by a Tapatio filmmaker about a group of activists dedicated to promoting bicycle use and tackling Guadalajara’s environmental problems.

The seeds of Juan Pablo Rojas Guerrero’s film “Over the Wheel” were sown when he traveled to Uruguay last year to compete for a place in Al Jazeera’s Viewfinder documentary series, which showcases independent filmmakers examining issues that affect their local communities.

Eleven directors from Latin America pitched their ideas for documentaries and Al Jazeera chose to commission six of the projects. One of these was Rojas’ idea for a film documenting “a group of activists in Guadalajara who promote bicycle use as a form of alternative transport which helps improve the air quality in the city.”

Rojas said he chose the topic “because a) I’m completely in favor of creating a space for cyclists in the city; and b) I really like these groups of citizens who organize themselves. They don’t rely on the government or businesses, they just go out onto the streets and try to make a change, motivated purely by their love for the city.”

With Al Jazeera’s backing, Rojas filmed the activities of activist groups Ciudad Para Todos and especially GDL en Bici from August to October last year. The two groups have been campaigning for around five years to make Guadalajara more accessible to alternative forms of transport.

The number of cyclists in Guadalajara has risen in this time and Rojas notes that every day there are mass bike rides across the city.

“We still don’t have cycling lanes but the public perception has changed and people respect cyclists more now,” he says.

But there is still much work to be done. While Rojas praises the “small, dedicated and conscientous movements” trying to make a difference in Guadalajara, he laments that there’s a lot more people who aren’t interested.”

Poor public transport means Guadalajara remains a city that drives residents toward car ownership, Rojas says. According to official figures, the number of vehicles in Guadalajara tripled from 509,566 in 1997 to 1,557,194 in 2009. It is estimated that every day another 350 automobiles join the city’s streets.

“There’s no space for cyclists here,” Rojas says. “There’s a lot of people who want to go out and ride on the streets but they’re scared because it’s dangerous.”

Part of the documentary emphasizes the danger of pedalling on Guadalajara’s busy streets, with Rojas focusing on “ghost bikes” – bicycles painted white and installed as roadside memorials where cyclists have been struck down by traffic. The city’s 100th ghost bike was installed late last year and several more have followed in January, Rojas says.

Having studied at Guadalajara’s ITESO university and a film school in Buenos Aires, Rojas then enrolled in a scriptwriting course in Santiago, Chile. He has made several short films and plans to make a series of short documentaries on artists who use their work to promote social change.

He says he was inspired in part by the immense success of “Presunto Culpable” a documentary exposing the failings of the Mexican justice system which broke box-office records in early 2011.

While “Over the Wheel” may not have such a forceful impact, it will reach many viewers and Rojas hopes it will help force the issues of sustainability and alternative transport onto the public agenda.

“Documentaries don’t always have the power to change situations,” he says, “but it is possible to increase public consciousness of certain issues.”
Watch “Over the Wheel” for free from Monday, January 28 at http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/viewfinder/2013/01/201319103757745675.html

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