Lights, Camera, Action: Attending the Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival

The 2024 Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival
A blockbuster movie premiere, a banquet of motorcycle short films, and scores of colorful motorcycling cinephiles; welcome to the Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival.

Hosted at Cinema São Jorge—a 78-year-old cinema on Lisbon’s swanky Avenida da Liberdade—the annual Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival celebrated its eighth running this year. Eight years on the go is a remarkable feat for such a niche event, but it’s easy to understand the appeal when you’re there in person.

The 2024 Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival
Running from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon, the event focuses mostly on the films that are being screened, with little else to distract—and that’s its charm.

Each day has its own vibe. Legions of motorcycles crowd the cobbled boardwalk outside the venue on Friday night, overshadowing the myriad vendors that occupy the street market. A giant banner hangs illuminated from Cinema São Jorge’s facade, proudly displaying Adi Gilbert’s brilliant poster illustration.

The 2024 Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival
Tickets are sold per screening, and tonight is sold out. The LxMFF has bagged a coveted early screening of The Bikeriders—a slow-burn epic inspired by and named after Danny Lyon’s groundbreaking photography book. The film’s all-star cast of Tom Hardy, Austin Butler, and Jodie Comer stuns under the guidance of writer-director Jeff Nichols.

Cinema São Jorge’s main theater, the Manoel de Oliveira Room, holds 800 at maximum capacity—so a second, 200-seater theater is opened to cover the 1,000 tickets sold for the premiere. As the credits roll, crowds pour out of the cinema and into the street, where the Portuguese police have shut down the streets for a 2,000-motorcycle-strong night ride through the streets of Lisbon. Astride a loaned BMW R 1250 R, it’s unlike any mass ride I’ve experienced before.

The 2024 Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival
Lisbon’s motorcycling community reflects the city’s personality; grungy yet vibrant. Motorcycles of all types flit between each under under Lisbon’s midnight lights; a rider in white Doc Marten knockoffs on a bright red Honda CBR600R darts by on my left, while a giant bagger rolls past me blasting The Offspring on my right. I hardly get out of first gear.

The 2024 Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival
Saturday’s proceedings kick off in the afternoon, leaving enough time for festival-goers to shake off their hangovers from the previous night’s after-party. The day is divided into multiple screening sessions, each crammed with small collections of short, motorcycle-themed films. Most of the films are in English, with Portuguese subtitles to satisfy the local audience.

Highlights include The Passenger; a haunting film that deals with loss and mourning from a motorcyclist’s perspective.

The 2024 Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival
Then there’s the thought-provoking The Last Motorcycle on Earth, which imagines a near-future where motorcycles are on the brink of being outlawed in favor of autonomous vehicles.

After the screening, myself [above center] and Wil Thomas [above left], a filmmaker and one of the stars of The Passenger, are quizzed on our thoughts on the electric vehicle industry and the future of transportation. The audience is both accommodating and engaging.

The 2024 Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival
Saturday’s main feature is Dark Rider—a full-length documentary that follows Australian Ben Felten as he sets out to break the world land speed record for a blind motorcyclist. Directed by Belgian filmmaker Eva Küpper with breathtaking cinematography by Carl Rottiers, it’s a must-watch.

Ben and Eva are in attendance, as is Ben’s crew chief, Paul. They field a series of excellent questions from another deeply engaged audience after the screening.

The 2024 Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival
Sunday is noticeably quieter as the event begins to wind down. First up is a live screening of the French MotoGP (the first time I’ve watched motorcycle racing in a cinema). As a South African, I naturally cheer loudly as Brad Binder passes Portuguese superstar Miguel Oliveira; my Portuguese friends are not impressed.

The day winds down with more short films (mostly local productions screened in Portuguese). Throughout the weekend, friendships were formed, art was digested (and then fiercely debated), seafood was consumed, and motorcycles were ridden.

The 2024 Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival
As I devour another plate of pasta from the pizzeria down the road from my hotel (I mostly ate Italian food in Portugal, go figure), I resolve to attend the 2025 running of the Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival. See you there?

Images by @paclopes | With thanks to the Lisbon Motorcycle Film Festival