Oct. 25, 2005
Cinephile pedals to world's film fests
By Patrick McGavin
CHICAGO --George Christensen has an athlete's lean, chiseled body and tapered legs. His long hair and beard project a solitary intensity. Growing up in the affluent north suburbs of Chicago, he developed a warrior code. He craved movement and action and hated anything he regarded as passive and inert, like watching television.
Movies offered something else. After seeing Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" as a teenager, he got hooked on the power and intensity of the moving image.
Now the 55-year-old biking enthusiast and movie lover has ingeniously found the means to combine his two passions. Several years ago, he began flying to major cities and then biking to as many international film festivals as was physically possible. "I am a bicyclist who likes movies much more than I am a moviegoer who likes to bicycle," Christensen says.
A Chicago-based bicycling messenger, Christensen typically rides his bike about 15,000 miles every year. He has cycled vast distances in pretty much every corner of the planet. (In March, he trekked to the Andes, in Ecuador. He has also cycled from Bombay to Calcutta, from Australia to Iceland, and in the Himalayas.)
Christensen recently returned home from a whirlwind tour of Europe in which he covered about 6,000 miles on his bicycle. He also "covered" more than 50 films at the Festival de Cannes, where he achieved a sort of notoriety in the cinephile blog community where he was known under the nom de guerre "George the Cyclist." Writing short, provocative pieces about the films he saw for the web log, he would seek out content involving bicycles wherever he could find it.
Pointing out a short scene from Michael Haneke's prize-winning film "Cache" (Hidden), in which there is an angry exchange between an African cyclist and the movie's upper-middle-class protagonist played by , a sequence seething with rage and social rupture, Christensen says directly: "It is, after all, a Haneke movie."
For the second consecutive year, Christensen has flown to Paris and traveled the 600-mile distance to Cannes on his bicycle. An arduous and dangerous route, Christensen ascended high atop the French mountains, where the altitude produced extreme change in temperatures. Traversing through snow-covered terrain, Christensen nearly suffered from hypothermia. On the descent, "it took about an hour to get the feeling back into my hands," he says. That didn't prevent him from replicating some of the passes in the Alps and Pyrenees as a means of decompressing after the festival.
"I tour to experience different lands and cultures, and films allow me (to do) the same thing," he says. It is a wanderlust that has taken him to festivals in Berlin, Rotterdam, Thessaloniki, Greece, and to the Midnight Sun Festival in Finland, among others.
Last month he was beckoned back to the States to Telluride, Colo., for the open-air, mountain film festival, where he has been on staff in the shipping and receiving department for 11 years. "It takes a staff of 500 to put on the festival, and Telluride only has a population of 1,500, so two-thirds of the staff is recruited from elsewhere," he says. He loves the program's special events, and the opportunity to interact with other movie lovers.
"I am a bicyclist who likes movies," he says simply.