This year’s Filmed by Bike film festival, which will screen at The Egyptian Theatre on Friday, Jan. 18, will come with a local surprise: the world premier preview of a new documentary from Boise filmmakers Eric Westrom and Seth Randall, Following the Lieutenant. The film chronicles a daring troupe of Buffalo Soldiers who cycled over 1,900 miles across the West in 1897 to prove that the U.S. military should replace horses with bikes.
“In 1896 they did two kind of smaller test rides, and then in the summer of 1897 they did their big experiment, where they rode from Missoula [Montana] to St. Louis, and that took them 42 days total,” said Westrom, who first heard of the adventure while living in Missoula as a kid. “It was close to 2,000 miles, and if you think about it in cyclists’ terms it’s like a Tour de France distance, except obviously it’s not a race. It’s widely considered early mountain biking, one of the first large group rides of its kind.”
Westrom works for Channel 7 in Boise, and Following the Lieutenant is his first long-form film project. Years ago, he came across an article in a biking magazine that sparked his interest in the story of Lt. James A. Moss and his men on wheels. While the long-ago expedition crossed Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Missouri, Westrom and his all-Idahoan crew filmed the bulk of their documentary in the Gem State.
“The reenactment scenes with the soldiers have all been shot here in Idaho. We were able to use Idaho’s forests and rivers, [and] the high dessert, to kind of double for Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Missouri,” Westrom said. “It’s just really showing off what you can do in Idaho; there are a lot of diverse landscapes that you can use for film.”
Most of the film’s cast is from the Gem State, too, with the exception of a Florida-based actor who popped in for a day while traveling, and an appearance by a University of Montana Black Studies Department adjunct professor Pferron Doss, who’s an expert on the 1897 trip.
“He actually took an African-American Studies group on a ride in the 70s to retrace the route on highways,” said Westrom.
A clip of Following the Lieutenant will premier at Filmed by Bike before the full film hits the festival circuit this summer. Filmmakers will be on site at The Egyptian for a Q&A.