Article by MFF Host and Head Judge Paul d’Orleans, reposted from his website, The Vintagent
Cliff Vaughs at the Motorcycle Film Festival panel discussion, which I moderated – a film of his visit to NYC is being edited as we speak (photo courtesy the Motorcycle Film Festival).
Cliff Vaughs, best known for his creation of the ‘Easy Rider’ choppers, sailed away from this world quietly on July 2nd from his home in Templeton, CA. Had it not been for Jesse James’ ‘History of the Chopper’ TV series, Vaughs would have likely vanished from history, but the question ‘who built the most famous motorcycles in the world?’ needed an answer. That led Jesse to a sailboat in Panama, where he found Cliff, who’d left the USA in 1974. Why he lived alone on a sailboat in the Caribbean, instead of soaking up praise for his work on ‘Easy Rider’, and his filmmaking , photography, and civil rights work, is a long story. I told some of that story in my book ‘The Chopper; the Real Story’, but Cliff’s life was too big to fit into one chapter of a book, and he dismissed ‘Easy Rider’ as “Three weeks of my life”.
Cliff Vaughs on Malibu beach in 1973, on his white H-D Shovelhead chopper. (photo courtesy Eliot ‘Cameraman’ Gold)
Cliff Vaughs was born in Boston on April 16th, 1937, to a single mother, and showed great promise as a student. He graduated from Boston Latin School and Boston University, then earned his MA at the University of Mexico in Mexico City – driving from Boston in his Triumph TR2. Moving to LA in 1961, he encountered the budding chopper scene, and soon had a green Knucklehead ‘chopped Hog’, as he called it; that’s where he befriended motorcycle customizer Ben Hardy in Watts, who became his mentor. Cliff was recruited to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1963, and brought his chopper to Arkansas and Alabama, where he drag-raced white policemen, and visited sharecropper farms “looking like slavery had never ended.” He added, “I may have been naïve thinking I could be an example to the black folks who were living in the South, but that’s why I rode my chopper in Alabama. I was never sure if the white landowners would chase me off with a shotgun. But I wanted to be a visible example to them; a free black man on my motorcycle.”
Cliff’s chopper adventures in the SNCC was a story never told – he was too radical, too provocative, too free for the group. Casey Hayden (activist/politician Tom Hayden’s first wife) remembered Cliff as “a West Coast motorcyclist, a lot of leather and no shirts. Hip before anyone else was hip. A little scary, and reckless.” Cliff’s ex-wife Wendy Vance added “He was a true adventurer. … There was just some sort of fearlessness in all situations. It did not occur to him that he was a moving target on this motorcycle. At a march in Selma, the civil rights leader John Lewis refused to stand next to him. ‘You are crazy,’ Lewis said, ‘I will not march next to you.’ The fear was that, somehow, Cliff would make himself a target.”
A never-before published photo of Cliff on his white H-D Shovelhead chopper in 1973 (photo courtesy the Easyriders archive)
Cliff was indeed a target of many failed shootings, and his tales of riding his chopper in the South were incorporated into ‘Easy Rider’, after he returned to LA in 1965 to make films like ‘What Will the Harvest Be?’, which explored the nascent Black Power movement. Cliff was Associate Producer on ‘Easy Rider’, and oversaw the creation of the Captain America and Billy choppers, which became the most famous motorcycles in the world. He didn’t get the recognition he deserved for those bikes, partly because the whole crew was fired when Columbia Pictures took over production, and Cliff’s payout/signoff included a clause keeping him off the film’s credits. Publications like Ed Roth’s ‘Choppers Magazine’ explored Cliff’s role in ‘Easy Rider’ from 1968 onwards, but both Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper at various times claimed credit for building those bikes, and Dan Haggerty took credit too. Hopper acknowledged in his last year the seminal role Cliff Vaughs played, as did Peter Fonda, in 2015. Cliff went on to produce ‘Not So Easy’, a motorcycle safety film, in 1974, but left the US to live on a sailboat in the Caribbean the next 40 years. He was brought back to the US in 2014, as appreciation spread for his contribution to motorcycle history, and he was celebrated at the Motorcycle Film Festival in Brooklyn last year; a documentary from his time in NYC is being edited as this moment. Godspeed, Cliff.
Cliff Vaughs with a re-creation of his ‘Captain America’ chopper in 2014
The Motorcycle Film Festival is built on one simple thing. The Motorcycle. It transports us from here to there. It gives us freedom. It pushes us to take chances, go farther, and test our limits. Motorcycles don’t define us, but they do become a part of us and it is this shared understanding of what they bring to our lives that brings the motorcycle community so close. For us, it’s this common bond and the relationship between Festival, Filmmakers and Audience that is the most rewarding. It’s a relationship that doesn’t end once the theatre lights go dim. It’s why we travel the world to bring the films to riders everywhere and remain in contact with all of the MFF Filmmakers. One of those filmmakers is Cam Elkins.
MFF: What new projects do you have in the works?
CE: Since I started Stories of Bike, the commercial work has really picked up. After I finished Discovery, I went on to shoot a couple of TVCs (one for a motorcycle insurance company, of course) and a stack of online content. I was also invited to help develop another Web series called The Leadership Show. I also went to the U.S. last year to shoot a new secret moto TV pilot, which I’m still editing. All of which has been keeping me pretty busy and away from doing more on Stories of Bike.
MFF: How has Stories of Bike progressed?
CE: When I first started Stories, I didn’t really have an idea of what it was going to be. All I knew was that I didn’t want to do stories about builders, but rather everyday riders. Yes, there are a couple of builder stories in there, but it’s about the reasons they ride and the particular aspect of their riding that makes their riding unique. Since then, I’ve wanted to refine this a little more and show more about who we are as people who also ride and how riding makes us see the world a little bit brighter than most.
I started shooting a little bit of Season 3 last year, but have only really been able to make some real progress in the last couple of months. So far I’ve shot 4 episodes and I’m about to head back to the U.S. in August to shoot 2 more. I’m hoping to round out Season 3 with 10-12 episodes along with a bunch of other experimental stuff, including a pay-per-view episode, new merch, and even a screening tour.
MFF: How many episodes are there now?
CE: I’ve made 18 episodes so far across 2 seasons, with a few trailers and bonus clips along the way.
MFF: Where can they be seen?
CE: They’re all up on my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/storiesofbike or you can head to www.storiesofbike.com to watch the episodes and also get extra content like behind the scenes footage and more.
MFF: What have you discovered about yourself as a filmmaker and rider through making these films?
CE: Having only been regularly making videos for 4 years and doing it professionally for 2, you could say I started out late in the game. So, it would be safe to say that I’ve learned just about everything about being a filmmaker through the making of these Stories of Bike episodes. I started the series as a way for me to fast-track my filmmaking experience and build up the confidence to have my own style and make creative decisions without regret.
MFF: How did you find out about the MFF? What years and films have you been included?
CE: I can’t remember exactly how I found out about the MFF. I think I stumbled across it while searching for moto related film festivals that I could submit the series to. Either way, I’m glad I did. For two years running, I had 4 of my episodes selected to be shown in the 2014 and 2015 festivals.
MFF: Have you attended the Motorcycle Film Festival?
CE: I sure have! Through the amazing generosity of the moto community here in Sydney, I was given a surprise return ticket to NYC to attend the MFF in 2014. I had back surgery a few months before and missed out attending another festival where I picked up a couple of awards. Jodie, who is featured in Dream, didn’t want me missing out on another awesome event and rallied the community here to raise some money to send me over. I’ll never forget the day Jodie and a bunch of super cool mates sprung that on me at the Rising Sun Workshop. Actually attending the MFF was even better. I had the most amazing time.
MFF: Anything else you’d like to add?
CE:I just hope everyone can get along to the MFF. It’s a fantastic event with an amazing bunch of people.
MFF: Two episodes of Stories Of Bike ‘Discovery‘ and ‘Dream‘ which feature women riders, have been featured at the MFF and will travel with us to Petrolettes in Berlin, July 29-31. So we asked Cam what his experience has been filming with female riders as subjects?
CE: In my episodes, I’ve always wanted to treat women just like any other rider I feature. That might not sound like anything special, but it is because it’s still a bit of a rare thing. All of the women I’ve featured haven’t thought anything special of themselves and simply want to ride for the joy of it, but hope that more women join them in the future. I think perhaps the difference between the way that guys and girls ride is that guys can go riding for the sense of power on the bike and connection to the world around them, whereas women can do that too, but enjoy sharing that experience with others.
The Motorcycle Film Festival (MFF) is excited to announce that we are teaming up with Irene Kotnik of The Curves MC to screen women-centric films of the MFF during the Petrolettes camp-out weekend in Berlin, Germany from 29-31 July.
Petrolettes is a ladies-only camping weekend, celebrating women and motorcycles and will be chock-full of racing, music, and films! Created and managed by Irene Kotnik and The Curves MC, the weekend promises to be a fantastic time! The full schedule of events for the weekend can be found below or on the Petrolettes website.
Irene is no stranger to motorcycles or film as she co-founded The Curves MC, a women’s moto group in Berlin, and has held various positions within the film community. She has a passion for uniting women in gasoline culture and because of that passion, is organizing the first annual Petrolettes with The Curves. She is also an MFF Judge this year, so when she asked us if we wanted to participate, we jumped at the chance!
Because Petrolettes is a ladies weekend, we will be screening films that feature and/or were filmed by women. The MFF is looking to continue moving the discussion forward about how and where women fit into motorcycles and art and to also highlight the women behind the scenes of both the film and motorcycle communities – with Petrolettes offering a perfect opportunity to do so.
FRIDAY 3 pm Opening of the Gates, meet and greet
later BBQ special Burgers by Edelweiss36
in the evening Music and outdoor cinema hosted by Motorcycle Film Festival NY
SATURDAY 10-12 am Breakfast 13-16 pm The Petrolettes Race 16-21 pm Vendors and Fleamarket
later Raffle, Dinner, Bands and DJ
SUNDAY 10-12 am Hangover cure breakfast 13-16 pm Packing up and kick out 21 pm Aftershow party at Wild at Heart, Kreuzberg– for boys and girls
The Curves Berlin, an all-female motorcycle club is staging the first annual Petrolettes event in Berlin from July, 29-31 2016. A weekend with concerts, performances, film screenings and motorcycle sprints. Petrolettes is a unique and colorful spectacle in which everything revolves around rolling wheels – true to the motto: unite-rally-race party-dance-camp-repeat.
We are thrilled to present the official trailer for the 3rd annual MFF 2015 by filmmaker Daniel Rintz. Daniel won “Best Of Festival” at the 2nd annual MFF with his film “Somewhere Else Tomorrow“. With the support of Honda, the MFF was able to fund Daniel in filming a trailer for this year’s festival. No small feat as he is still on the road with limited means.
It was a such a great experience to work with such a talented filmmaker and get updates like these throughout the process.
April Email update from Guatemala:
We’ve captured the last missing shots for the trailer yesterday. The weather wasn’t cooperating until then, but now we’re very close getting it finished.
The other day got almost killed filming. We shot footage on a very nice narrow and windy road; it was newly paved. Several cars stopped and told us to “get lost”. Finally when one of them threatened to “make a phone call” we immediately left the scene. We talked to some local friends about it the next day and found out this road was only buildt and paved so they could extract Gold from the mountains in the region more easily. The people who threatened us were indigenous and do not in the least profit from the natural resources. Instead their kids are born blind, woman get sterile, and diseases are through the roof, only because they depend on the water of the land, which is now polluted because of the mining. The mining company is – of course – American. The corrupt Guatemalan government made a quick buck by selling the land to greedy corporations. We look like Gringos to the indigenous and they immediately hated our guts for obvious reasons. There was no explaining our way out of it. But we acted in time and got out.
Yesterday we found a spot where there were no miners for filming the “campsite scene,” but it was hairy to get to. Single track on the heavy bikes… We filmed till sunset and getting down in the dark I almost threw my whale of a bike down the cliff.
But it’s all good fun and adventure and everybody loved working on it.” – Daniel Rintz
Daniel & Joey
Read about Daniel Rintz’s award winning film “Somewhere Else Tomorrow” HERE.
Bonnier Motorcycle Group Announced as 2015 Motorcycle Film Festival Media Partner
Irvine, CA; May 15, 2015 – The Bonnier Motorcycle Group is pleased to announce that they have been named an official media partner for the 2015 Motorcycle Film Festival. The 3rd Annual Motorcycle Film Festival will be held September 23-27, 2015 in Brooklyn, New York.
The 1st Annual Motorcycle Film Festival was held in September of 2013 by co-founders Jack Drury and Corinna Mantlo to give moto/film enthusiasts from around the world a reason to gather, discuss, and celebrate their favorite subject – Motorcycles. Since the first event, the Motorcycle Film Festival has become a year round organization providing a home for all motorcycle films
“We are honored to become an official media partner of the Motorcycle Film Festival,” said Garrett Kai, Associate Publisher, Marketing for the Bonnier Motorcycle Group. “Jack and Corrina have built an amazing event that celebrates the two-wheeled world, and we want to help tell as many people as possible about this incredible show”.
“We are completely thrilled to call Bonnier part of the MFF family this year” commented Jack Drury, co-founder of the Motorcycle Film Festival. “We can’t tell you how much it means to us to be working side by side with the people responsible for the magazines we’ve pored over for every month for years to get the word out about the incredible work that motorcycle filmmakers are putting out. It’s a real honor and a real privilege.”
For more information about the Motorcycle Film Festival go to www.motorcyclefilmfestival.com or stay tuned to the Bonnier Motorcycle Group’s digital channels for more exciting information.
About Bonnier Motorcycle Group Bonnier Motorcycle Group is the world’s largest motorcycle media family, featuring the most complete, authentic, and in-depth coverage for all facets of the motorcycle marketplace. Bonnier Motorcycle Group consists of 11 premium brands which include: Cycle World, Motorcyclist, Dirt Rider, Hot Bike, Sport Rider, Baggers, Motorcycle Cruiser, Street Chopper, ATV Rider, Super Streetbike, and UTV Driver.
We’re pleased as a podium finish with the artwork for this year’s MFF. For our third annual, artist Rich Lee brings us something completely different. We caught up with Rich to learn more about his art, influences, interest in motorcycles, and children’s books.
Hi Rich. What inspired the artwork? I spoke with Corinna (MFF co-founder) and asked what she wanted to see. She stated that her dad had worked in comics for some time, so she was partial to something with a comic feel to it. I thought it was a great idea since I love working in a comic book style!
I looked up some videos posted by MFF on YouTube to get an idea for what the event and organization are like. From the videos, I imagined what it’d be like to ride to the screenings – bombing through the evening streets of Brooklyn with all the brick buildings in the area. I also looked up what vintage street signs used to look like to give it a sense of place.
How did you learn about the MFF? A couple of friends had their film shown at the Film Festival in 2014: Dirtbag Challenge.
You’ve done work for a long list of motorcycle publications. What is your attraction to motorcycles and how did you get involved with them? Yeah the moto publication stuff is pretty cool – I feel very fortunate that I’m able to contribute!
I got into motorcycles when I was in high school. I couldn’t afford a car so I looked at other forms of transportation. I remember going down to the bookstore and flipping through moto mags and just oohing and ahhing over bikes like ZX-7RRs and 600F3s (I thought the Joe Camel edition was the coolest thing). A year or two after high school I ended up getting a used, ratted out 600F2 and that was that. I eventually retired the F2 at about 110,000 miles and now I’m riding a CBR600RR and DL1000. Been riding since 1998/1999.
I like the efficiency of the motorcycle. I like not having those creature comforts a car can provide, and I like not having four wheels of wasted space. I know cars are useful for certain things but when I commute or just need to haul my own ass around, I’d rather twist my wrist and go.
How did you get started in illustration and how did you get to where you are today? I grew up loving comic books and all the different styles and storytelling tools used in them. I’d spend hours just looking at each panel and studying the line work over and over. I thought I’d be a professional comic artist one day!
I earned a Master in Illustration from the Academy of Art here in San Francisco, and a Bachelor in Graphic Design from Sacramento State University. While working on my master’s, I was freelancing full-time and it was kinda fun working on different projects all the time. Between jobs I would draw things that interested and inspired me like motorcycles and whatever else struck a chord with me at the moment. The motorcycle drawings seemed to be a favorite of some folks on the internet, so I kept at it and eventually got the attention of some people in the publishing and advertising world.
Currently, I’m a graphic illustrator for a marketing agency in San Francisco and freelance illustrator for a motorcycle publication. I really have no complaints – the diversity of work I’m engaging is challenging and a lot of fun.
Your work touches on many different styles and influences – noir, woodblock, cartoon. Who and what are your influences, and do you have an underlying theme that guides your work? I love good art; stuff that when you see it, you know they spent time honing their craft. In general, the artists I really enjoy are Moebius, Will Eisner, Bernie Wrightson, Adam Hughes, Sergio Toppi, Franklin Booth, Katsuhiro Otomo, Yoji Shinkawa, Frank Frazetta, JC Leyendecker, and John Singer Sargent. In terms of motorcycle art, my biggest influence would be the guys who did Joe Bar Team – Christian Debarre and Stéphane Deteindre.
I think the underlying theme to my moto drawings is that I want someone who rides to look at the drawing and say, “Yeah, that artist knows what he’s drawing.” I also want to convey that sense of action and excitement that one may feel when they grip and rip a throttle.
What is your typical working method? Do you usually have an idea that you put down or do you sketch to arrive at an idea? There isn’t really a typical method for me. Sometimes I’ll watch a GP race and get inspired to draw one of the racers and other times I’ll be jogging when an idea pops in there and I’ll try to remember it by the time my run is over. I use my runs as a way to work out a picture. I’ll sketch it out mentally before putting it on paper/screen. Sometimes I’ll sketch in a sketchbook and other times I’ll just sketch directly in Photoshop. I think whatever tool helps get the idea across most efficiently is what I’ll use.
What are some projects that you’re working on now? One of the long-term projects I’m pretty excited about is actually a children’s book – I didn’t write it, but I’m doing the illustration work for it. It’s really new territory for me and it’s fun to research all the children’s books out there especially since I have a 14-month old. I just finished a bunch of spot drawings for Motorcyclist magazine, which was pretty fun, and I’m about to start on some skateboard deck design and illustration.