Posted on 21st December 2023

How Independent Feature Documentary Chasing the Sun Cycled to a Sustainable Finish

We sat down with director Michael Clifford and producer Pip Piper who are behind the upcoming documentary ‘Chasing the Sun’ which follows the Chase The Sun cycling challenge, in which riders cycle coast to coast, from sunrise to sunset, across southern England. Aside from shining a light on the event, Chasing the Sun is ultimately a film about how the bicycle can enable ordinary people to do extraordinary things. With the tagline ‘one pedal stroke at a time’, the narrative explores the power and potential of the bicycle as a critical tool at a time of energy crisis and misuse.


Michael and Pip didn’t just want to tell another story about another event, particularly in the realm of sports and endurance, and wanted to set Chasing the Sun apart by using it to make a commentary about cycling in the UK, and what it means with climate change becoming more and more of a pressing issue to people. The team particularly wanted to inspire people to make the positive change of getting on their bike, and support those already doing it.

The film doesn’t just focus on individual behaviour, but systemic change too, and how the uptake in cycling across the UK has led to a rise in safer infrastructure in some areas. While London drivers are ever more aware of cyclists and dedicated cycle lanes, it’s not the same around the UK. Yate, one of Chasing the Sun’s locations near Bristol, only has one segregated cycle lane so far, and residents are campaigning for more.

From the get-go, we felt that if all we did was make a nice film for people who already cycle and love cycling, then we wouldn't have achieved what we set out to do - to inspire people. The idea was to create a film that's full of universal themes and was very accessible to people who wouldn't necessarily call themselves cyclists. We wanted to provoke that "I've got to get my bike out of the shed - I can do this" kind of response. To help people see that they don't need their car to go half a mile to the shop.

— Pip Piper – Producer

Electric bikes feature in the film too, and the team used them to help make the film. E-bikes can help some demographics of society see that cycling is a realistic option for them, whether that’s to replace a car or just some car journeys.

The film doesn’t shy away from questions of access to cycling due to cost or infrastructure poverty though, from the landscape itself to not having safe places to store bikes. The team tried their best to be honest and fair when it came to these questions.

We don’t want the film to be seen as only targeting a certain sector of society. That’s why it was important to look at climate, health and wellbeing as part of the narrative. It’s a clarion call for people to question what they want life to look like going forward. – Pip Piper – Producer


The biggest challenge for Chasing the Sun was geographical logistics. For a low budget documentary focused on a cycling event taking place across multiple locations, the task of reducing its carbon footprint was a daunting one, but the team came up with many creative solutions to tackle it.

The production began in 2021 while the world was still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to the use of remote production techniques like using Zoom for interviews, and getting interviewees to record their own video and sound and so on. When crew transportation was required, the team often restricted itself to a single van to get from location to location. It contained all their equipment and their bikes, which were used for short distance travel once the crew arrived at their location.

Travelling by bike is most effective over shorter distances, so when we were filming in Yate and Bristol, for example, we’d travel there as a team then use bikes for filming and getting around once we were there. It worked well; in fact, it was an advantage as we didn’t have the hassle of the vehicle, such as trying to find parking or keeping in touch with our subject who was on a bike.” – Michael Clifford – Director

We tried to limit the travel impact by combining different modes of transport. It takes a bit of forward planning to make it work. For example, I'd drive my zero-emission vehicle to owner of the van's house, leave my car there, then continue with him in the van with all the kit, including the cargo bikes. Then we'd meet up and all go on from there. Leaving the van and getting on to bikes is sort of liberating. We also stayed in shared accommodation - even the co-producer's house at one point. I know you couldn't do that wholly on a drama, but small elements of it could, for example a second unit

— Pip Piper – Producer

What needs to change?

Both Michael and Pip are advocates for preparation and not leaving the sustainability question until the last minute. Sustainability needs to be considered as part of essential planning for a filmmaker, at the same level as things like legal and financial.

This business is a very last-minute business, especially for documentary filmmaking. The solution is nearly always “get a taxi”, “hire a car”, “fly them by helicopter” or whatever. That needs to change. From the moment a project is conceived, you have to start implementing a low carbon agenda. It will shape and change what the film will be but that adds a creative dimension.” – Michael Clifford – Director

Find out more about Chasing the Sun at its website:

This case study was undertaken with the support of the BFI, awarding funds from the National Lottery, as part of the Sustainable Screen Fund to support all BFI National Lottery awardees in building environmental understanding and action on positive environmental change. Find out more about our partnership with the BFI here.

Watch the Trailer!