Bike Vessel: A Film About Perseverance

Eric D. Seals is a Chicago-based director and cinematographer who’s worked on projects from live sports and Netflix documentary series to ads.

His directorial debut, Bike Vessel, follows a 350 mile bike trip he took from St. Louis to Chicago with his father after his dad changed his lifestyle following three quadruple bypass operations. The film is both a funny and touching portrait of a father-son road trip while also commenting on racial health disparities and the systemic racism Black men face.

Eric grew up eating just about every southern delicacy you could name; pulled pork, liverwurst sandwiches, fried fish, alongside his father, Donnie Seals Sr. living in Wheaton, a west suburb of Chicago. He also watched his dad drink and smoke for almost 10 years, until 1995 when he almost died. Donnie Seals Sr. would undergo his first open-heart surgery before the age of 50.

Over the next 15 years, he would have a total of three quadruple bypass surgeries and be forced into early retirement. However, the story doesn’t end there. Seals is now 70 years old and cycles more than 30 miles a day and has logged over 15,000 miles on his road bike. His heart problems have all but disappeared. Having once been on more than 20 daily medications, he is now down to one and his doctors call his recovery miraculous.

This is a story of a man defying health statistics and renewing his lease on life. It takes a hard look at the health disparities plaguing Black men, and the systemic racism that has elevated them to the lowest life expectancy and highest death rate of any other racial or ethnic group.

A cinema-verite, participatory documentary following Seals and filmmaker Eric as they cycle from St. Louis to Chicago.  Bike Vessel also utilizes archival footage/photographs and animations to take viewers to Seals’ previous unhealthy life and health complications, while giving audiences an intimate look inside a Black working-class family in the Midwest.

By the end of the film, viewers will understand where Seals once was in his health journey, how he made a full recovery, and his everyday commitment and struggle of never going back to where he once was.

The filmmaker’s health similarities to his dad are striking. Bike Vessel has become an emotional self-reflection for Eric, who is approaching his dad’s age when he had his first open-heart surgery. During the film, you see him bike alongside his father, symbolizing the parallels in their health journeys. An intimate look into a father-son relationship, Bike Vessel is a poetic meditation on kinship, connection, and deep familial love.

Why This Film and Why Now?

African American men are dying at alarming rates, with complications of the heart being the leading cause of death in Black males older than 44. Efforts to eliminate the racial and ethnic inequities within our healthcare system have often overlooked Black males, whose life expectancy rates have continued to lag far behind Black women and white Americans. A film showcasing the inadequacies in our healthcare system when it comes to Black men is crucial, and time sensitive.

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