Sometimes you need fresh eyes to see what’s right in front of you.
That’s the message of “Bikes of Wrath,” a 2018 Australian documentary that examines issues of immigration, wealth inequality and economic opportunity in America from a visitor’s perspective.
The 101-minute independent film opened Monday and continues through Sunday at the Darkside Cinema, 215 SW Fourth St. in Corvallis.
The documentary is the result of a quixotic journey by five Australian filmmakers who set out to recreate the migration of the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s iconic 1939 novel, traveling Route 66 by bicycle from Sallisaw, Oklahoma, to Bakersfield, California, a distance of roughly 1,600 miles.
They set a travel budget of $420, the modern equivalent of the $18 the Joads had to fund their Depression-era cross-country exodus, and filmed their encounters with the working-class Americans they met along the way.
“I think the fact that we were Australian was a really good access point for us,” said co-director and producer Charlie Turnbull, a Canberra native who now lives in Austin. “People seemed really willing and eager to talk about not only their communities but their country as well.”
Part of the project’s appeal, he added, was that it would put the filmmakers in contact with “middle America.” That group of people tends to be marginalized in the media and is often depicted as narrow-minded or bigoted, Turnbull said, but that’s not how they came across in person.
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“Their friendliness and generosity was kind of overwhelming at times,” he said. “That just happened time and time again on our journey.”
Instead of encountering the kind of angry divisiveness that characterizes American politics these days, Turnbull and his companions discovered an underlying unity and optimism that they found uplifting.
“There’s far more commonality than differences among Americans, despite it being such a diverse country in terms of people and landscapes,” Turnbull said.
“They believe in their communities, and they believe in their country,” he added. “I think Americans just have this great, unwavering hope and positivity. Maybe it has to do with the American Dream, but it was very apparent to us.”
Turnbull will be at Wednesday’s 5 p.m. screening at the Darkside to introduce the film and answer questions from the audience afterward.
Check the theater’s website at https://darksidecinema.com/ for full schedule and ticket ianformation.