The fifth annual Meeting film festival in Aspen continued their now venerable tradition of getting as many ski and snowboard films together as possible, in one place, early season. Ski and snowboard stoke rise rapidly in September, so doing this sort of thing now is smart, and it works. Venue for most shows is the beautiful Wheeler Opera House with its state-of-art projection system, and they fill the place for nearly every screening. A few observations from Lisa and I:
RE: Session — by Teton Gravity
TGR’s offering had the unique honor of being screened up at the Sundeck Restaurant at the top of Aspen Mountain ski area. You rode the gondola up from town, and they’d converted the facility to a 400+ seat theater. We loved the spirit this gave the showing. Riding the gondy at night is always a treat. You take the uphill seats so you’re looking downhill at the sparkling lights of Aspen receding into the alpine dark. About halfway up the ride, civilization drops away and you feel the alpine fold around you like a cozy wool blanket as you glide over forests and finally crest the top where the majestic Elk Mountains rise to 14,000 feet just one valley over.
Sadly, the lower quality projection system (compared to Wheeler) they’d set up didn’t do TGR’s “Re: Session” proud. Highlight details were washed out in much of the sequences, and the screen was small. Thus, you didn’t get the usual impact you expect when you screen modern ski films in a theater setting. This had the effect of making TGR’s narrative even more important, but, “Re: Session” is not much on narrative and of course big on visuals, so the whole deal was a mixed blessing. Still, “Re: Session” is fun, so go enjoy it when it comes to a venue near you. You’ll like the “powder trenching” sequence that shows what’s probably the world record for face-shot duration, and some of the tricks these guys are throwing while big mountain skiing really are pretty amazing.
Forever — by Forum Snowboards
This “team” movie features a bunch of sponsored snowboard riders doing mostly urban stuff. The cool thing is, “Forever” is composed and scored so well, it gave us a new appreciation of urban glisse. Yeah, I’m not going to look for cities to enhance my ski experience any time soon, but I really did get jazzed by this. The only ski movie I’ve seen that has the same level of creative camera work is Sweetgrass’s “Signatures.” At this point in the history of ski films, when one-upping last year’s stunts gets tougher and tougher, it might be time for filmmakers to bring more of their inner artists out for us all to see. Thanks snowboarders for charging ahead on this. Oh, and points for the music from my youth (we had the trailer embedded here but it had some copyrighted audio that caused it to be blocked out).
Refresh — by Level One Productions
Big story with this (and probably a PR bonanza) is that somehow Level One roped Warren Miller into narrating a good portion of their flick. That’s great, as Miller’s distinctive voice is a joy to hear, and his long view perspective on the state of modern skiing (it’s done everywhere now, no lifts required, etc.) couldn’t have been stated better by anyone. Problem is, Warren Miller Entertainment (WME) owns the rights to just about anything having to do with Warren Miller the man, and especially his narration of ski movies. I’m pretty sure the way this all went down is that yes, Miller started the Warren Miller Entertainment company, but he retired and sold out, and in doing so sold the rights for his visage to the company.
We’ll, WME decided to do a trademark infringement lawsuit against Level One, and even went so far as to ask for a restraining order against the film (which wasn’t granted). I’m of course a big fan of intellectual property rights since I make most of my living by my pen. So I really don’t care for the typical vilifying of WME (which happened at the festival) as the “big giant” who shouldn’t have a problem with the little gnats buzzing around and stealing stuff from them.
On the other hand there are grey areas in all this; just because you trademark something or copyright it doesn’t mean someone else still can’t use it in certain ways (e.g, derivative work). Thus, one has to have faith that Level One and Warren Miller (the man) wouldn’t have used their Miller narration if they’d been certain WME really did have ironclad sole rights in perpetuity to Miller’s image and voice when used in ski movies. In all, it seems to me there is more going on here than meets the eye, so perhaps we’ll learn about such as the lawsuit progresses. More info here. And here.
Oh, and about the movie “Refresh” ?
Having Miller in there indeed gives it an extra edge that I found to be thoroughly enjoyable as well as a terrific nod to deeper ski culture. On the other hand, way too much park and urban for this boy. Luckily Matchstick came soon after.
In Deep — by Matchstick Productions
The festival winner for us was clearly Matchstick Productions’ “In Deep.” Take my word for it (but go see it), this flick has it all, in spades. Production values are killer. The scoring will blow you away, and of course received extra points from this old hippie for using The Who’s Baba O’Riley (AKA “Teenage Wasteland”). Yeah, watch 17-year-old Sean Petit as he rips snow as the classic lyrics, “out here in the fields, I fight for my yields,” seem to be written for him — for his moments.
Another plus for “In Deep” is its superbly done athlete voice overs. Instead of the occasional flash of a subtitle or some kind of goofy statement by a rider, these guys actually string some sentences together and move the flick along as somewhat of a narrative. Indeed, showing that some growing up is going on here (lord forbid), this allowance of narrative gives Chris Davenport the opportunity to opine on a couple of beater falls he took during the filming — the type of falls they usually cut. In other words, Matchstick is presenting big mountain skiing as a real sport; real sports are not all prefect.
This moves us into the eagerly awaited Shane McConkey tribute. Yes, I’ve been critical of BASE jumping and Shane’s untimely death. I’m still no fan of BASE, but Shane’s tribute reinforced the positive side of what guys like him contribute to humanity. It’s like they’re way bigger than themselves, and somehow their destiny just has to live up to that size no matter what the consequences, with the legacy of inspiring others to live lives to the fullest, in the best way they can, living large and giving their all. Just like Shane did. That’s the positive side of such tragedy. That’s what the gladiators in these ski movies do for us. And that’s how McConkey is presented in his tribute — 100% joyful inspiration.
After that, in a masterful closing segue, Matchstick has their crew lip syncing Billy Joel’s song “Piano Man” with talented goofball Colby West leading the festivities. This could have been way too over the top and awkward, as it goes on for a while. But they pull it off and somehow the words of Joel’s song get re-written in your mind to something like this:
It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday
The regulars heli in
There’s Mark Abma sitting next to me
Amazing the places he’s been…
Sing us a song you’re the skier man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you’ve got us feeling alright…
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.