Benger’s Director Notes

Co-Director’s Notes
by Robin Benger

In 1999 I was editing Nelson Mandela At The Skydome with Anthony Corindia , a freelance editor. My bike was stolen. At the time, being low on funds, it was my principal conveyance. Mightily pissed I headed down to Igor’s. I watched him operate for half an hour or so. He struck me as an anarchic, modern-day Fagin, fleecin’ and fiddlin’, as two slow-eyed assistants circled the Wolf King, at his beck and philosophizin’ call.

Now. I had no proof then, and have none now, that Igor had my stolen bike. But this corded muscled, profane, grease-smeared bike nut gave me no chance to find out. In no uncertain terms, he suggested I remove myself forthwith. Discretion being the better part etc.

In all I had three bikes stolen around that time.

I returned to the edit suite, and wondered aloud whether one could get a camera into this guy’s life. For a documentary filmmaker, every situation spawns a doc idea. Nothing becomes of 95 percent of them.

But Anthony picked up on it. In the weeks following he went down and got access to Igor. My partner, Christopher Sumpton and I agreed to produce it, take it as far as we could. We hired cameraman Barry Stone to shoot a couple of days, Anthony shot more himself, and together we cut a promo video and wrote a proposal which we circulated to the commissioning editors. We got a meeting with Jerry McIntosh at CBC Newsworld, but he turned it down.

So as with many a good documentary idea it died on the vine of buyer disinterest. But to his credit, the tenacious Anthony kept shooting, expanding it to the bike cops, who gave him lots of access to their arrests and relationship to Igor. He tried to sell it himself, using our name when he needed to. Eventually he, too, threw in the towel.

Fast forward ten years. Igor is busted in a sting, set up, it seems, for a Toronto Sun reporter. A day or two earlier Igor had been quoted as boasting in a Sun article about his business and stolen bikes, so I am told. Big Mistake.

You can imagine the call from Police HQ. “What the ***. Bust this turkey, will ya!!”

Unexpectedly the arrest blows big, across the globe, New York Times, newspapers and blogsites from Sydney to Paris.

Anthony calls me. I call the CBC. The CBC calls back. That’s great, they say, we’ll commission a doc, but do global bike culture as well.

Chris Sumpton ran with that aspect, while I took on the Igor aspect.

“I�ve never stolen one toothpick in this country”, Igor proclaims.

He’s all over the map. The least linear character I’ve ever met. Never a dull moment. His defence: he was led to believe that if he recorded each bike as it came in, as per the second-hand dealer’s license, and if it wasn’t claimed within three weeks, he could sell it.

He explains the flow of bikes showing at his shop, many wheeled in by the same circle of bedraggled street guys, clearly needing quick dough to dull whatever pains they carried…he explains this flow with sweeping apocalyptic descriptions of a civilization in terminal decline, populated by fat, impotent toothless losers, who having too much disposable income, could afford to go out and buy another bike.

He is an amazing step-upper. I screen all of Anthony’s tapes from the ’99 shoot and time and time again somebody comes in wanting a 5 dollar pedal or handlebar part, and he manages, through a combination of bullying and cajoling and laughter, to get them to shell out 30-50 bucks on a ‘new’ machine.

The court, as a condition of bail asks him to seek counseling for hoarding. I Google hoarding. Sure enough it is listed in the diagnostic manual as a subset of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), which on further reading appears to be a bit of medical bureaucratese for over-enthusiasm, although of course there is a school of psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists who specialize in hoarding. 1

I contact a therapist and film a session where Igor talks about his background as a kid in Slovenia, his ‘gentle loser’ father, his intelligent but hapless mother. He was a cop in Llubjana, a judo champion.

He is wide open, in full cry, theories and opinions, but not much by way of factual information.

It is interesting that, as a good friend of his later confirms, he could never bring himself to part with the bikes he took in. Therefore, if he doesn’t turn a profit, is that only half a theft?

I get to know Igor and his wife Jeanie. And his inner circle. They are good people. Interesting people. But they are caught up in something nasty and tightening. It creates an air of unreality, an ambience of denial. The police have thrown the book at him, the feds are moving against his building and now Revenue Canada is in on the act, claiming years of unpaid taxes.

He is not allowed to own a bike. He sees me off one day and sees mine. He can’t resist, swarming it, pinching the tires, lifting it and spinning the wheels, testing the gears. It’s a $200 job from Canadian Tire. He sneers, derides, rants and promises to fix it up if he could just get his tools back. I tell him it’s fine for me. He doesn’t care what I think. I’m an ignoramus. He is Bike God.

One day in December he heads off to one of his rented garages to grab some scrap. A Pakistani family has taken possession of it, there’s an argument, Igor is charged with assault, his bail is revoked.

Since then, there he’s been in the Don Jail, a scandalously overcrowded facility. In fact the treatment of Kenk, guilty not, has been a depressing insight into the wheels of the Ontario and Canadian criminal justice system, circa 2009. I think it’s appalling. He has been beaten up at least twice inside. He’s lost his lustre, now looks like the mountain man, pudgy and bearded. His friends are uncommonly loyal, but voiceless.

Bryant gets Greenspan and a PR company and does not a night in the clink. Igor, who won’t or can’t pay for a lawyer, let alone a PR company, is being punished big time for it.

The legal process seems to be all about deal-making and not at all about proper process or justice. I spoke out about this in an interview with the Globe & Mail, and the online comments were truly hateful. It seems we are not that far removed from the pillory and the stocks.

Okay. Let’s, for arguments sake, say the man is a bike thief.

So let’s get on with prosecuting him properly. Ultimately, he may have had a hand in the theft of three of my bikes and dozens of my friends’ bikes. But I’ve forgiven him.

Frankly there are bigger fish to fry out there.

It’s baffling, and it ain’t over yet.