The Freedom Machine review: A love letter to women in cycling

5 mins read

“Bikes, Babes, Brilliant” – this is how director and curator, Jo Reid, described her latest project which premiered at the Glasgow Film Festival last week. 

When Glasgow Film Festival and Glasgow Life co-commissioned Jo Reid to curate a film on women cycling she couldn’t believe it, 

“I’ve volunteered at the Film Festival in the past, so seeing my name on the big screen is surreal,” says Reid. 

The archival film is a love letter to all the women in the past who took the first steps on a bike and paved the way for women in the sport today. 

Footage lapsing from the early 19th century to today showcases how similar and connected we are to past generations. 

The feeling of freedom that comes from riding a bike is, nowadays, underrated as it has become an over-naturalised experience. However, watching the joy and enthusiasm on these women’s faces inspires the viewers to reconsider just how special the simplicity of bikes is. 

The commission comes in preparation for the upcoming UCI Cycling World Championships, which will be held in Glasgow this summer. For the first time ever, 13 championships will take place, giving all athletes an opportunity to demonstrate their talent and showcase just how many different types of cycling there are. 

In honour of this ground-breaking cultural event, Reid focused her film on as many types of cycling as possible.

Speaking at the world premiere, Reid explained: “They gave me a lot of freedom,  I wanted to emphasise there is not one type of woman and there is not one type of cycling. There are different ways it’s been approached and all these different stories that you can tell”

This approach translates into the many ways bikes have been used over time. From postwomen to young schoolgirls, to cross-country racing, bicycles have accompanied women and provided them with independence. 

A strong presence of home footage adds a sense of warmth and familiarity that lures the viewer in and keeps them wanting more. Reid spoke about this artistic decision claiming: 

“I love home footage, I think there is something really special about the moments we chose to document.”

Accompanying Jo Reid on the red carpet are Scotland’s Commonwealth silver medalists, Charlene Jones and Jenny Davis. 

The pair won silver at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and, although retired, they both remembered how their first experiences on two wheels changed their lives. 

Jones described this to Brig on the red carpet: “It brought me back (…) for me, riding a bike started when I was a kid at my granny’s with my mum’s old bike, so you really don’t need the flashiest bike.”

For Davis the film serves as a reminder of how far women’s sport has come, and how far we still have to go:

“It is getting better, the prize money is becoming more equal,  but the numbers are still different. When Charlene and I were racing [2008/2018] the number of our events was not equal to the men, but they are now.” 

Reid echoed this thought, explaining that many of the women we see throughout the film were not given the opportunities or the resources to compete professionally:

“A lot of these women had to drop their dreams of making it as cyclists as they were all working full or part-time and couldn’t afford to invest in equipment and training. There was no investment in women cycling.”

Women’s cycling only arrived at the Olympics in 1984 and at the Commonwealth Games in 1990. Almost a century after the men category. 

The Freedom Machine is a touching tribute to the legions of women that came before. Paving the way for meaningful change, on and off the bike.

Featured Image Credit: Sofia Carlotta Sculati

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Film and Tv Editor at Brig Newspaper. Currently studying Journalism and English at the University of Stirling

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