Santa Barbara brothers win activism award for bicycle documentary
Brothers Jacob Seigel Brielle and Isaac Seigel-Boettner were born and raised in cycling culture. Both were driven home from Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in bike trailers by their cycling-loving parents, which inspired the production company they would eventually start together: Pedal Born Pictures.
The company was born out of the two brothers’ love of filmmaking, storytelling and activism – all linked by the common thread of cycling.
Their latest project, a short documentary titled A way forward, highlights a group of teenage girls from a small village in rural Kenya whose lives have been changed thanks to a program that provided them with bicycles for their daily journeys to and from school. The film was recognized at the 17th Annual MY HERO Film Festival, winning the Dan Eldon Activist Award. Their first film together, My own two wheelerwon the same award in 2010.
“Everywhere you go there are bikes,” Seigel-Boettner said. “Every time you ride with people, it breaks down walls. It’s more than transportation. Growing up, the two always knew that e-bikes should connect people. Their parents, both longtime teachers here in Santa Barbara, regularly organized road trips with classmates, and as far back as they can remember, their garages were always filled with more bikes than cars.
When they studied at UC Berkeley – Jacob majoring in peace and conflict studies, while Isaac followed two years later to pursue film studies – the two began working on My own two wheeler, and thanks to a scholarship from the university, they were able to spend a semester in Rwanda. Seeing firsthand the power of the bicycle, not just as a community builder, but as a resource that can help marginalized groups, changed their outlook and set them on the path to creating Pedal Born Pictures.
“Learning to see the power of the bike as more than just a tool or toy,” Seigel-Boettner said. “It’s not transcendental at all times. It’s a way to make better use of all these assets.
Their start-up has led to work with bike-based nonprofits as well as big-name clients like National geographic and Google, all with their unique brand of bike storytelling.
In A way forward, Kenyan teenagers Dianah and Angela struggle with everyday life in a community where women shoulder most of the burden: getting up before the sun rises, fetching water, studying and cooking breakfast for the family. Their school is over an hour’s walk away, and many young girls are forced to ride local motorbike taxi drivers, dodging their sexual advances and risking being taken away against their will. Through a program from their school through World Bicycle Relief, the girls were provided with bicycles to make the trip safely.
Seigel Brielle and Seigel-Boettner spent time with the people of the village, eating tea and cookies every day and even receiving a gifted chicken from a relative. “We spent about a week in this community, going home with the girls and meeting their families,” Seigel Brielle said.
The brothers found that the bike program not only gave the girls a sense of security and independence, but also became a cycling community. The first photo shows Dianah, in her school uniform and bright pink backpack, on a leisurely stroll through the nature reserve behind her house. She stops at a serene waterfall, enjoying a quiet moment made possible by her school’s used bicycle.
Sign up for Indy Today to get fresh Independent.com news delivered to your inbox every morning.
This is just one of many stories around the world centering on the freedom of these two wheels that show the impact this mode of transportation has on communities. Seigel Brielle and Seigel-Boettner hope to continue telling these stories, wherever they find them.
Now they’re based in the Bay Area and working on their next project: a series exploring people “creating community and culture by hand,” Jacob said, starting of course with a local bike shop in Berkeley. The series – which should include woodcarvers, pasta makers, etc. — hopes to lean into the idea of things “made by human touch,” which the brothers say has become a hot issue during COVID.
While they may branch out into other territories, their bike roots run deep, and it’s not something that’s going away anytime soon. “I still ride to work every day,” Seigel-Boettner said.
Support it Santa Barbara Independent through a long-term or one-time contribution.