Director Laura Lukitsch takes the wheel of a new documentary on alternate transportation.

Lukitsch Pedals into the ‘Gap’

Michael Fox December 8, 2010

One of Laura Lukitsch’s formative college experiences was living in Japan for a year with its amazing public transportation. Resolving not to own a car upon her return, she moved to New York City and, 11 years ago, the Bay Area. But that commitment was challenged from the moment she arrived here; commuting from the Richmond District to her Redwood City job on public transit took two draining hours each way. (Collective nod of sympathetic understanding.) Lukitsch works from home these days, but the documentary filmmaker’s passion for public transit hasn’t waned. “Can we replace the car culture here with biking and public transportation and high-speed rail?” she asks, framing her question through a series of webisodes and, eventually, a film. “Is it possible?”

The ambitious documentary will follow seven commuters in seven cities (San Francisco, London, Stockholm, Shanghai, Tokyo, Dubai and Curitiba, Brazil), intercut with Bay Area efforts to implement Senate Bill 375, a piece of the climate initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by trimming vehicle miles.

“My idea is to film the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) process, activist groups, the S.F. Bike Coalition and [other] groups and individuals over a three-year period,” Lukitsch explains. “Each group has different goals, and I want to look at how they come together—or don’t come together—on the huge challenge of how we move through our cities.”

Lukitsch ditched her original, catchy title, Subways, in part because it didn’t reflect the breadth of a topic that encompasses land-use issues, varying parking, car registration and congestion fees, and the different ways in which public transit is funded and supported from country to country. (For example, Lukitsch casually mentions that Tokyo’s public transportation system operates at a profit.) But a true transportation analysis requires looking at the entire journey, not just the public-transit leg.

“I realized that because of the criteria I was looking at, what I’m calling the ecosystem of transportation—getting door-to-door, which includes walking and multiple forms—looking just at subways was limiting,” Lukitsch says. So she adopted a new title, with a British accent: Mind the Gap.

Lukitsch’s doc debut, the hour-long Beard Club, launched on the festival circuit at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in October after a sneak peek at Oakland’s outdoor Temescal Street Cinema in July. Beard Club happened to be the first project covered in this space when In Production debuted almost two-and-a-half years ago. I mention it to highlight a key lesson Lukitsch learned from her first film, namely how danged long the process takes.

As a method of bridging the gap, Lukitsch has embarked on a series of webisodes on three sub-topics—urban biking (with Sports Basement signing on as the sponsor), car-free alternatives and transportation-related legislation. Along with shooting and editing various pieces, she’s acting as series producer with guest producers coming onboard to contribute short works. The first piece, “Urban Biking: Overcoming Your Fears” can be viewed at

Some prospective subjects include don’t bike drunk; car-less living (“as opposed to car-free, because sometimes you need to use a Zipcar”); families and biking, and foldable bikes. Lukitsch also has shot three pieces on AB 32 (California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) a day in the life of a senior using BART and carrying various things on a bike that she hasn’t had time to edit.

Mind the Gap has already been through one revision, with the webisodes leapfrogging the full-length documentary. Shortly after we spoke, Lukitsch emailed me to say that the response she’s received from community groups, agencies and individuals has convinced her that there’s a more effective way to use media to encourage sustainable urban commuting and public transit usage.

“Transportation advocates and activists are very enthusiastic about the series,” Lukitsch reports, “so I'm re-thinking my approach and looking to create a more formalized plan which includes doing outreach to schools and other organizations.”

Given the scope and complexity of the transportation problem and the array of players, it’s perhaps not surprising that the shape and structure of Mind the Gap is still evolving. Stay tuned, as they say.

Notes from the Underground
The recently announced 2011 Sundance Film Festival lineup includes the world premiere of Matthew Bate’s Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure. an Australian-U.S. co-production whose synopsis will sound familiar to San Franciscans of a certain vintage: “When two friends tape-recorded the fights of their violently noisy neighbors, they accidentally created one of the world's first ‘viral’ pop-culture sensations.” … The extensive, kid-friendly exhibit, Pixar: 25 Years of Animation, continues at the Oakland Museum of California through January 9.

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