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Meet Filmmaker Kiki Ong

Filmmaker Kiki Ong on Antelope Island

When Kiki Ong was growing up in Logan, Utah, she enjoyed skiing and watching Redbull ski videos. One day, a mountain bike video came on, and she was instantly intrigued. A short ride later with a friend, and she was stoked on mountain biking. Now a 24-year-old freelance filmmaker who works seasonally in the ski industry, Ong makes her own films telling the stories of people who love the outdoors. Her latest film As We Have Always Done will be released at the Filmed By Bike Festival in June. We caught up with Ong, who is a 2020 Filmed By Bike BIPOC Filmmaker Grant awardee, to learn more about her and her new film.

Stan’s No Tubes: Let’s start with mountain biking. How exactly did you go from watching a mountain bike video to mountain biker?

Kiki Ong: When I first saw that Redbull mountain biking video, I thought it was so cool. I had never considered taking a bike off road before that. It’s the same story that so many people share – taking their dad’s old beater bike down the trail, and that’s exactly what I did! A friend and I went maybe two miles up the trail, which I thought was exhausting, but riding back down made the uphill all worth it. The feeling on the bike reminded me of skiing, swooping side to side and dodging trees by inches. At the bottom, I realized I was hooked.

SNT: What do you love about mountain biking?

KO: I like having the connection to the landscape. Mountain biking takes me places I wouldn’t otherwise see. And I love the adrenaline of it. I enjoy the feeling of going fast – whether on skis or on bikes.

SNT: What kinds of mountain biking do you do?

KO: I haven’t thought about how to categorize myself as a mountain biker. When I started biking in Logan, most of the trails I rode were packed singletrack. I felt confident moving to Santa Cruz [California], but then I saw some of that steep stuff there, and it was so different from what I was used to. It was scary but so much fun. There’s a definite learning curve to downhill riding, but I enjoyed learning it as a new skill!

SNT: What are some of your favorite places to ride and what do you like about them?

KO: One of my all time favorite places to ride is Ashland, Oregon, on a trail called Time Warp. It has a little bit of everything. The downhill is incredibly long and makes the climb up so worth it. Then you can ride straight into town right after and go to a cafe and get a drink. It’s the perfect biking experience, if you ask me.

I also love riding in Santa Cruz. One of my favorite trails is called the Enchanted Loop Trail in Wilder Ranch. The trail itself is beautiful, and there’s a small creek at the bottom where you can hang out in the shade and find newts.

SNT: What’s on your ride bucket list?

KO: I want to ride in Bellingham, Washington super badly. Watching Brooklyn Bell ride her home trails makes me want to take a road trip up there. It’s definitely on my bucket list – maybe this year!

SNT: Aside from mountain biking, do you do any other kinds of riding, and if so, what?

KO: I have recently started getting into bikepacking. I don’t really have any gear, but some people from the [University of California Santa Cruz] UCSC team were really sweet and let me borrow some packs, and my partner lent me his extra bike. It’s something I want to get more into in 2022.

SNT: Let’s switch over to filmmaking. How did you get into it?

KO: Once I got to college, I was trying to figure out what to do. I went through a few majors: geology for a while, then diplomacy and world affairs. It was tough because I didn't feel like I connected to those fields in the way that I wanted. 

My dad saw I was going through a hard time, and he said maybe I should take a gap year. During that gap year, I worked alongside my parents in Asia. I figured out what I like to do. I like to organize and collaborate with other people, and have always enjoyed film and art, so filmmaking was the perfect field for me. It mixes collaboration and my creative vision. I transferred to UC Santa Cruz and started filmmaking. I graduated in 2020, and now I'm freelancing on the side.

SNT: Who are your favorite filmmakers, and how have they inspired you?

KO: My all time favorite is a Hong Kong filmmaker, Wong Kar Wai. I love his use of color and composition. He does really beautiful art films that are so pretty to watch. I have a connection to him because my dad is from Hong Kong. Having spent some time there, I think it’s cool to see landscapes I saw growing up. I just love his films.

SNT: What do you love about filmmaking?

KO: I love meeting so many different people. It’s empowering to be part of a team making one vision happen. I love the process of organizing of everything. Everyone has their part to play to make a finished product. It’s such a cool process to be a part of.

SNT: Please tell us more about your new film As We Have Always Done. 

KO: It's a film that follows the organizers of Pedal 2 the People, a community space for BIPOC cyclists to connect and find each other online. The film follows the lives of the three organizers – Rachel Olzer, Elyse Bejasa and Eric Arce – and how they got into cycling.

From the second I picked up mountain biking, I thought it would be cool to make a multi-medium film mixing aspects of live action and found objects. What’s particularly interesting with BIPOC subjects, is that there’s often such a connection to found objects. In the film, we share a lot of Eric’s connection to objects his dad had. It’s cool to see how these objects transcend time and generations.

SNT: When and where can we watch it?

KO: It’s going to debut at the Filmed By Bike Film Fest on June 9-12 at the Hollywood Theater in Portland, Oregon. Then it will be released online on Vimeo.

SNT: Your profile on Filmed By Bike describes you as a “mixed-media artist with a focus on documentary, stop motion animation, and collage”. Can you please help us understand what that means?

KO: Stop motion animation is a style of filmmaking in which you have a stationary camera, and you move an object a tiny bit, take a picture, then move it again, take a picture, etc. You create an entire arc of motion, frame by frame. Collage is art collage - ripping up paper, magazine clippings, etc. In As We Have Always Done, we use a lot of archival photos of the organizers from when they were young and their personal items to illustrate their stories.

SNT: The Filmed by Bike BIPOC Filmmaker Grant was created to increase BIPOC representation to the bike and film world. What does that mean to you?

KO: I don't often see myself reflected in outdoor media, although that has changed more recently. But even when I do see BIPOC represented, it’s great, but I want to go past representation and share our full, authentic stories. That’s something I haven’t seen quite as much. 

With this grant, Filmed By Bike creates a space for BIPOC to tell our own narratives. They checked in with me all the time about how they could support me. As a BIPOC filmmaker, it’s been affirming to have that support. I wanted to be able to share stories in a more unfiltered way, and having Filmed By Bike available to answer questions and offer feedback was invaluable.

SNT: Based on your own experiences and travel and interactions with lots of people, is there anything you’d like to share about how we all could increase BIPOC participation in cycling through film or otherwise?

KO: It’s always about making space for people to show up as who they are and meeting them where they are. Often there is an explanation to look or be a certain way to fit into a space. By challenging systems as well as our own personal biases, we can reimagine what it means to be a cyclist. Access, funding, and resources are also some tangible ways to support BIPOC participation in cycling.

SNT: If you had the resources to make and market any film, what would it be about?

KO: Oh, that’s such a good question! There are so many interesting stories out there that should be shared. 

If I personally had the resources, I’d probably make a film about my parents. Their story is really powerful and has impacted me to be the person I am today. It’s something I’d want to share with others. 

My dad has lived in so many different places. He was sort of a rascal and was kicked out of so many different colleges. He randomly ended up at Utah State University because it was the only college that would accept him. My mom grew up in Taiwan then moved to Chile and also randomly ended up at Utah State. It’s a hodgepodge of random experiences. 

It doesn’t make any sense how they ended up at Utah State and how they met. Mom was hosting an end-of-year party and cooked abalone fish as a celebratory meal. Abalone fish is my dad’s favorite, so he crashed the party, and that’s how they met.

SNT: Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

KO: The advice I would give is to just go for it. I struggle with anxiety, and for a while I was on the fence about making this film. I was super nervous about it. I’d been thinking about doing it for years. If not for the support from Eric, Rachel, and Elyse to make it happen and collaborate, I wouldn’t have. That aspect of the community was so confidence-inspiring and made me think, “I can do this.” 

So even if you're doing it alone, there are resources online like the BIPOC filmmaking grant. You’ll never know if you don’t take that first step. 

SNT: What about any advice for aspiring mountain bikers?

KO: I would say the same thing. Just go for it! Do your own thing. You’re entitled to the trail just as much as anyone else. You should take up as much space as you need. There are affinity spaces online and offline where you can connect with specific community organizations, and Pedal 2 the People is one of them! I also really like cyclista_zine, thebrownbikegirl, and allmountainbrothers on Instagram.

When I went on my first bike ride, I didn’t wear a helmet, and I was on a bike two sizes too big, but I really wanted to try it. Just take up space and do your best. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Connect with Kiki Ong on Instagram.

Stan’s is a sponsor of the BIPOC Filmmaker Grant Program.

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