Bikes Not Bombs!, An interview with directors of Ayamye

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Eric Matthies is Producer, Cinematographer and one of the Directors of Ayamye*. Currently he is an award winning producer and director specializing in documentaries, video installations and special features for DVD’s. Between 1986 and 1994, Eric was a cameraman with the seminal production company H-Gun, shooting notable music videos for artists such as Nine Inch Nails, De La Soul, Public Enemy and Soundgarden. As a young director he received recognition from The Chicago International Film Festival for his work with the legendary band Suicidal Tendencies.
After many years of helping other directors realize their visions, Ayamye* is proudly his first independent documentary to produce and direct.

Tricia Todd who has co produced and co directed Ayamye* is a photographer and documentary filmmaker living in Los Angeles.
.A love for Africa was born early in her life through National Geographic magazines she read while growing up in Texas. She has traveled through four different countries in Africa in her photography and documentary adventures.
Tricia Todd studied film and photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. Her photographs have been exhibited in art galleries in New York and Los Angeles as well as exhibits at the California Museum of Photography, The Los Angeles Center for Photographic Study and the Museum of Fine Arts, Florida. In 1998 she joined forces with Eric Matthies to expand EMP, Inc.

Ayamye* is a moving, life-affirming film that proves sustainable solutions to crisis are not always complex. This beautifully shot documentary was filmed mainly in a rural village in Ghana with a stop along the way to visit Bikes not Bombs in Boston

Cinema Without Borders: Congratulation for picking up such a great and positive subject for your movie. In a world that we have started to hate anyone that does not look like us and terrorism seems to be the only important topic of the time, your choice is very wise and positive. How you encountered with this project and what did inspire you to make it?
Eric Matthies: We had a desire to make a film that reflected something positive about Africa to counteract all the despairing news coming out of that region…AIDS, Famine, Genocide, etc.
Since we’re big fans of bicycles we knew that with a bit of research we could find a way to show how bicycles are being used in progressive and effective programs to implement change in how our world works. Once we began researching the film, Village Bicycle Project (VBP) became our first choice to follow because they are a small grassroots operation with 2/3rds of the principal members being Ghanaian.

CWB: How did you find the main two characters of Ayamye? Please tell us about your first experience visiting Ghana.
Tricia Todd: Once we began corresponding with VBP we learned that the next scheduled series of workshops was in the Songorinya region of Ghana and so we were put in touch with the local Peace Corps volunteer, David Branigan. Email discussion with David lead to his suggesting several members of the community who were participating in the workshops that would be good for us to work with. We chose to follow Nurse Letitia and Seth because they are so different from each other yet they are both pivotal members of the community.
Although they are minor characters in the film, Faustina and Mr. Ayim helped express how the bicycles can impact the community as a whole.

Overall our time in Ghana was a positive one. The people we met and worked with all became good friends and we could never have had such a successful experience without them. Ghanaians as a whole are very friendly, but the good people who took us in, gave us rides, fed us and taught us their culture went beyond any expectations.

CWB: Corruption in many poor countries of the world always doesn’t let help get to the ones needing it. How this case was handled to avoid this problem?
Tricia: The working model followed by both the program and the individual Peace Corps volunteer we partnered with is not to tell Ghanaian’s how to solve their problems. Rather, both VBP and David Branigan work as facilitators, enabling the community to find solutions of their own, rather than imposing a Western way of doing things. The result is that corruption is not a factor in the program itself.
As for our getting in and out of the country, we elected to work ‘fast and light’, carrying a frugal amount of equipment and not attracting attention to ourselves. While moving about the capitol we were always in the company of local friends; in the village the community adopted us as their own family.

CWB: Did you have to remake the past, the period that Letitia and Seth had no bicycles? If so then, how did you make sure nothing is exaggerated in remaking of their past? Did the bicycle riding learning part of the movie a real time experience?
Eric: Everything happened in real time for our cameras; in fact this is how we scheduled the production. After we filmed the collection of the bikes in Boston, we went to the community in Ghana well before the shipment of bicycles caught up to us. All of the footage in the villages with Letitia and Seth that takes place before the bikes arrived was done previous to the workshops. When Letitia revealed to us that she still needed to learn how to ride we simply made sure our cameras were there when she elected to borrow a bike and a friend and began the process. Amazingly she learned in the pouring rain over a period of a few hours. We merely filmed what happened, and made a concerted effort to not offer any suggestions or assistance.
CWB: What was the reaction of the people of the village to Letitia getting and riding a bicycle? Did they appreciate the change? What were the women reactions? Did any of them wish to have a bicycle?
Eric: Many women received bicycles during the workshops. VBP mandates 25% of all participants are women. Certainly when we returned the next year many women had overcome the stigma of the bicycle and were riding, learning to ride or borrowing bicycles to get things done. It was truly a ripple effect – once a few women started riding bikes other women wanted to do the same. The women quickly realized that the bicycle could help them in their daily lives as well. They all appreciated the change and the men didn’t seem to have a problem with it; in fact the men also seemed to understand the value of everyone having greater mobility. It was fantastic to see the hindering myths dissolve as the women discovered the joy of independence. Because of the overwhelming response to the bicycles VBP has created specific Women’s Workshops in addition to their current programs.

CWB: We have always heard that movies are movies and they cannot change people’s life, this has been the excuse of many Hollywood filmmakers to continue making solely entertaining films. But Ayamye proves that a filmmaker could step beyond entertainment and art and make an entertaining, artistic movie that also helps people to have a better life. Is this a right take on Ayamye?
Tricia: The message of Ayamye* is that sustainable solutions, when presented effectively, work. As an extension of that statement we hope that the film works on a similar principal. Many documentaries merely present facts – a deeper investigation into a story that the audience has heard little or nothing about. More and more, the viewer wants to know what they can do, how they can get involved or how they can react to the information presented in the film. Ayamye shows that a simple thing – a bicycle – can be used to improve quality of life and that it is not so difficult for anyone to participate, either by contributing to VBP or Bikes Not Bombs, or by seeking out similar programs in their own area of interest. We wanted to make a documentary that inspired change through optimism instead of having people leave the theatre in despair that there is nothing they can do to help.

CWB: Are you planning to follow this project and what are your future projects?
Eric: Because of our friendship with the good people we met in Ghana and VBP we are certainly following everyone’s progress as best we can through email and phone calls.
As for our own future projects we are currently shooting a new documentary about relatively unknown but legendary seventy year old musician titled: Agile, Mobile & Hostile: The story of Andre Williams.
Tricia: We are also in pre-production on a documentary that will focus on the increasing danger of killings, kidnappings, imprisonment and censorship faced by journalists working in the war zones and embattled regions of our world.
Social issues will be our main focus as we try to contribute to positive change in the world. As Martin Luther King said, “It’s always the right time to do the right thing.”

We would also like to point out that bicycles and sustainability do not only work in Ghana. There are many programs around the world that use bicycles to create change, growth and improve the quality of life in a community. From New Orleans to Guatemala, in many other African nations, in the Balkans and perhaps in your own town there are people working to bring bicycles into the lives of others who can use them to improve their mobility, their outlook and their future.

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About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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