Marie Ullrich wants to deliver a feature-length movie about bike messengers


Marie Ullrich on Milwaukee Avenue.

It’s annoying to see your job or your city portrayed inaccurately in the media, but as someone who spent years as a Chicago courier I was pleasantly surprised by Faster!, a short by filmmaker Marie (“MAH-ree”) Ullrich, which has played several international festivals. Although it’s a work of fiction, the writer/director/producer did a solid job of realistically depicting the nuts and bolts of Chicago’s bike delivery business. You can view the trailer for Faster! here (embedded below). Other locally filmed, bike-related projects she’s completed include an award-winning ad for Chrome messenger bags and an experimental short about ghost bike memorials.


Now Ullrich is trying to raise $35,000 via a Kickstarter campaign to shoot The Alley Cat, a full-length movie starring Jasper, the female messenger who is the main character from Faster!, played by Jenny Strubin. While the short follows Jasper on a rough day of courier work, the action in the feature film would revolve around a late-night alleycat (underground courier race) gone awry. Ullrich hopes to shoot the movie this summer before she leaves town for a full-time gig teaching in Michigan. I recently sat down with her at Café Mustache in Logan Square to get some background on her work and the deets about her future plans.

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Brasília, the capital of Brasil, is one of the cities featured in “Urbanized”. Photo by Bruno Coutinho. 

“Urbanized” is a film about cities, places where a majority of the world’s population lives today. “Urbanized looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design, featuring some of the world’s foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers”.

It first showed once in October at the Music Box Theater, with a discussion afterwards with director Gary Hustwit. He also created the films “Helvetica” and “Objectified“. The film has now opened at the Gene Siskel Film Center at 164 N State St. There are four remaining screenings (listed at the end of this post with the trailer).

I asked some friends for their reviews of the film.

Aaron Renn, urban analyst, author of The Urbanophile:

In Urbanized…Hustwit fails to lock in on anything as an anchor, spinning us around through various places, ideas, and bits and pieces of information, and leaving us to try to sort out for ourselves what it all means. The film, however, does not equip either the urbanist or the average viewer with any tools to do that. Read the full review.

Luke H, urban planner and fellow graduate of UIC’s urban planning college: 

Despite the fact that the film’s focus was entirely on cities and largely on the topic of city planning and design, urban planners played a shockingly minor role. This is either a failure on the part of the film maker or a wakeup call that urban planners have become largely irrelevant. I suspect the latter. It’s time we as planners broke free of our conventional, policy obsessed, design averted shackles and started inventing bold solutions to the very serious problem cities today face.

Let’s be honest: the only film urban planners are going to star in anytime soon will be titled Bureaucratized – and it will be about a profession that became so afraid of repeating past mistakes that it simply removed itself from the dialogue and left a vacuum to be filled by egomaniac architects and the cash-lined pockets of bad developers. This film is beautiful, relevant, and well researched. A must see for anyone interested in cities and the future of the human race–even if your profession is planning. Check your rubber stamp at the door.

Lindsay Banks, bicycling enthusiast & parking nerd:

I thought it was beautifully pieced together, much like his other films, on a topic that I’m very familiar with. While I didn’t learn a lot of new things, I really enjoyed the comments from the couple behind us, awed by Bogota’s TransMilenio (“Whoa, now that’s a bus!”) and their occasional “wows” over different statistics and new approaches to creating livable places. It seemed like the film may have opened their eyes to what livability could be.

The best part of the film was the mayor of Bogota talking about putting people before cars and how there is no constitutional right to a parking space. He rode a bike down an awesome, paved cycling / pedestrian path and pointed out the pothole-filled dirt road next to it. He said that when they have more money they will pave the road, but for now, people come first.

Lynn Stevens, urban planner and Peopling Places author

I’m not sure if I’m qualified to judge Urbanized in lay terms. I found it entertaining and visually expressive. It touched on issues of urban design, alternative transportation, the urgent need for housing solutions in some cities, and by extension issues of equity. Roger Ebert got more out of the film than I can even recall having seen it a couple of weeks ago, but I think that has more to do with my day-to-day existence as an urban planner who is reading about these and more urban issues all the time. The experience of the film for someone less engrossed and engaged in urban issues is bound to be different than mine for whom the content was basic.

Some time ago, I also saw Gary Hustwit’s film Helvetica. While I don’t remember particulars, I was intrigued by some of the design concepts and processes. What is germane is that for someone like me that does not live and breathe graphic design, it was interesting and intriguing, it got me thinking and was accessible in its presentation via documentary and venue of presentation on PBS.

Early viewings of Urbanized are likely to have been preaching to the choir, a self-selected group of urbanists. The film ultimately can best be measured by two questions for the lay viewer:

  • Did you learn anything from it? (and I think you will)
  • Did it stimulate your interest in urban issues? (and I think it will, but I may be biased)


Q & A after an Urbanized screening in Philadelphia with director Gary Hustwit, left. Photo by Tom Ipri. 

Screenings in Chicago

Mon, Nov 7th at 6:15 PM
Tue, Nov 8th at 6:15 PM
Thu, Nov 10th at 6:15 PM
Thu, Nov 10th at 8:15 PM

Tickets are $13. If you want to buy tickets online, you must use the poor shopping experience presented by Ticketmaster. Members of Chicago Architecture Foundation, Landmark Illinois, or the American Planning Association get a $6 discount to the Monday and Tuesday screenings if they present their membership card.