STATE COLLEGE - Director Stephen Auerbach has been a storyteller all of his life, using his imagination as a child to occupy and enjoy himself. As an adult, Auerbach found himself in the storytelling business and considers himself fortunate to come across a little-known event, "The Race Across America." He found the storytelling potential to be enormous.
Auerbach's resulting film, "Bicycle Dreams," will be shown at 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at the State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave..
"Here was an event, without any prize money or reward, that completely dominated the competitor's life and exhausted their finances," Auerbach said. "Here was an event that challenged ordinary folks, with ordinary jobs, not paid or pampered athletes, to go beyond all their known limits, physical and emotional."
“Bicycle Dreams,” will be shown at 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at the State Theatre. For more information about the film, visit http://bicycledreamsmovie.com or http://www.thestatetheatre.org.
Auberbach said a lot of events make this claim but, in all honesty, are pretending to be extreme when it compares to the Race Across America.
"Imagine riding 400 miles per day on your bicycle, and for a minimum of 20 hours per day to cross the United States in less than 10 days," he said. "It boggles the mind and my personal comprehension to think that one can accomplish this feat, yet, while out in the field and observing and documenting this race, I found it to be true, and frankly, it seems to me like something of a miracle that humans are capable of this kind of sustained effort."
The former television producer and writer said he enjoys being around those who exhibit certain virtues, such as total commitment and fearless venturing into the unknown. To Auerbach, the cyclists became like archetypes, almost biblical in nature, in that they were exhibiting mythic qualities.
"I was, and remain, in awe of these folks," he said.
"Bicycle Dreams" has been playing at theaters across the world for the past two years, Auerbach said. And because the appeal of the story is universal, it has been widely accepted. Many have remarked that the film is not about cycling, it's about the majestic dimensions of the human heart and it's a film that explores the dimensions in subtle and astonishing ways. According to Auerbach, the theatrical tour began after the film won 16 film festivals in rapid fashion.
Auberbach calls the eight characters in "Bicycle Dreams" seekers - "madmen and angels hell-bent on riding across American on a bicycle in less than 10 days."
"But what begins as the adventure of a lifetime is transformed in an instant when tragedy strikes the race," Auerbach said. "They risk it all, and in public, in front of their friends and their families. They are naked as can be, exposed to the extremes, raw emotions take precedence over all pretense of measured responses. They are like babies, crying when necessary and like wise sages, finding the interior talents to create human magic as necessary. These voyagers discover what is truly at stake as they pedal on, praying for the deliverance only the finish line can bring. By journey's end, some are saved, others are lost, but all learn that the fuel that takes a soul toward its own true destiny is desire."
The race, according to Auerbach, began in 1982. The 3,000-mile challenge from the Pacific to the Atlantic is considered to be the most challenging sporting event in the world. Top riders, he said, finish in less than 10 days, riding more than 300 miles per day and sleeping only a few hours per night. Bikers face "the agonizing climbs and descents of the Rockies, the driving winds of the Great Plains and the twisting switchbacks of the Appalachians before the final sprint to the finish line in Atlantic City."
Auerbach said he discovered the best way to make the film exciting was to stay out of the way.
"I believe that life is exciting," he said. "The moment-to-moment decisions of individuals are as complex and as beautiful as nature itself. One poet was able to see infinity in a grain of sand. I agree with that sentiment, and as a filmmaker making a documentary, I feel that my job is to be a sponge who soaks up the actual, not the fantasy of what is happening, but the blood and bones of what is really occurring."
He came home with 650 hours of footage, which he edited down to 100 minutes. Without narration, Auerbach said what the viewer sees is what he saw.
"Sure, I make selective editing decisions, but my goal, and the basis for the exciting storytelling in the case of 'Bicycle Dreams', was to present an unvarnished X-ray of the dreams and agonies, the success and failures, and the noble and the base, within each of the cyclists we documented."
The film comes on the tail end of Auerbach's first film, "Race Across America," a made-for-television project that aired on NBC and received the highest rating ever for a broadcast network program about cycling.
"Bicycle Dreams" is the winner of at least six film festival awards, which served as validation for Auerbach.
"Having my art validated in this way was worth a lifetime of doubt and struggle," he said. "I wish everyone can know this feeling. However, there is only one way to get it, in my opinion - be at the right place, at the right time, recognize that and work, work, work, until you reach the top of the mountain. There is no substitute for hard work. Documentaries are like building a castle out of matchsticks. You cannot give up. It is a unique art form in the demands that it makes. You have no actors, no rewrites, just stone that needs to be sculpted. And if you want the themes to reach people you have to put out an effort that is beyond all that you've done in the past."