A younger son has his arm around his older father while both are dressed in bike racing gear.

Slamdance Review: Bike Vessel

Film Reviews

Slamdance Film Review: Bike Vessel
Directed by Eric Seals

Premiere: 01.20

Donnie Seals Sr. started a daily cycling journey after decades of indulging in a diet of Southern fried foods, smoking, drinking and working a high-stress job that led to three open heart surgeries and confronting his own mortality if he didn’t make drastic changes. Inspired by his father’s new health plan, director Eric Seals picked up a bike and the two began training for a 350 mile ride from St. Louis to Chicago in four days.

Bike Vessel not only shares the story of Seals Sr. and his journey to a more healthy and prolonged life, but it also delves into his family, sharing the experiences of his wife and children as they responded his career and health challenges over the years. Decades-worth of home video footage are intermixed with storytelling from Seals’ siblings and mother, helping viewers understand their struggles. This familial sense has us rooting for the Seals family as we would our own parents and siblings.

The father and son cycling duo are not professional athletes, though their lofty goal of riding such a great distance in such a short amount of time may lead you to believe. We see the two of them train, struggle and question themselves for months leading up to the big ride. Days out, and even mid-ride, they are still unsure about what they decided to do. We get to see them support one another through all of the challenges in the way that only family can; they push, they cheer and they bitch each other out every mile.

Seals keeps things moving at a lively pace as he pivots from riding and training sequences to story-telling, even tying in elements of the Black experience through explaining how the high-fat and high-calorie diet of the South is rooted in slavery. In addition to tying together several stories and how they relate to his family’s experience, he beautifully captures the physical and mechanical elements of cycling. Seals utilizes drones to capture sweeping landscapes along their journey and cameras mounted on the bikes and helmets to help viewers feel like they are along for the ride.

Bike Vessel is a connecting and inspirational film, leaving me eager to get out on a bike with my dad as soon as I can. –Ben Trentelman

Read more of SLUG‘s comprehensive coverage of the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival.