A fascinating exploration of the spirit of invention and self-expression taking place in Indonesia’s extreme Vespa culture, Marc Aziz Ressang and Daniel Agha-Rafei’s short documentary Rebel Riders provides a tantalising glimpse of the free-spirited members of this recalcitrant DIY scene. Wonder at the crazy array of self-modified machines below, after which Ressang tells us why despite a lack of funding this was a film he felt absolutely compelled to make.

It all started about a year ago when my friend Muhammad Fadli published some photos about these crazy bikes in Indonesia. After some initial research I could only find a couple of videos that were either short Instagram clips or dry broadcast news reports that didn’t capture the grit and exhilaration that goes with it. It seemed like a lot of the interesting characters in the communities are notoriously hard to track down, so I visited an Extreme Vespa Community meetup to get an idea of what it’s all about. Not knowing what to expect, we were received with open arms and people were proudly discussing the community and their creations.

I pitched the story to several outlets, but no one was interested in developing or producing a documentary around it. It was too good of a story to not dig in to, so I decided to do it myself. With no budget, it boiled down to whatever I could pack into a large backpack (mostly a GH5 and Ronin-S).

Fadli was a great help in compiling a list of different styles and characters that would be good to interview, which we ended up developing in 5 main interviews. Me and Dan Agha-Rafei then spent a long week in Java trying to meet up with several crews and following them to the biggest Vespa festival in Indonesia. After a lot of preparation, phone calls and travel, we were not able to get into the festival – it was being held at a military airstrip off-limits to foreigners.

Every character we’ve met has their own interesting story to tell, their own philosophies and bikes that each deserve their own video!

Over the course of the year, I ended up taking 6 trips all over Indonesia to piece the puzzle together. It became my passion project — in between trips I would always be reviewing my footage, mapping out new shots, and doing more research to figure out how to put the viewers in the driver’s seat. Not being fluent in Indonesian resulted in spending a lot of time to get interviews transcribed and translated, then cutting it up to weave a broad story with different aspects being addressed. During the shoot, we used local fixers to help set up the interviews and translate for us.

In the end, I still consider the whole video a bit too broad – every character we’ve met has their own interesting story to tell, their own philosophies and bikes that each deserve their own video! I’m still sitting on a lot of footage that I would have loved to use, but didn’t fit within the current story structure.

Rebel Riders is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.

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