I saw McConkey with a packed house at the Tribeca Film Festival last April. It was the World Premiere and I was surprised Matchstick Productions and RedBull Media House chose Tribeca as its World Premiere (truly, it's more like Tribeca chose McConkey). This was no ski movie tour or ski movie premiere. It was just another New York City film festival and another documentary. Where were the skiers? Where was the hooting and hollering when Shane goes big at Squaw Valley? I was frustrated that the people I stood in line with weren't skiers or snowboarders and who didn't know who Shane McConkey was. I was frustrated that during the post-premiere Q&A a woman asked director David Zieff what this ski-BASEing really was. I was frustrated because I felt happiness and sadness and grief all at once as I watched this film about a man who I grew up watching in almost every ski movie from the time I was born, who was so full of life and took skiing, a hobby for almost everyone, so seriously. I was frustrated because it seemed as though the Tribeca audience just thought this guy was some adrenaline-seeking loose-cannon. Maybe he was, but he was every skier's adrenaline-seeking loose-cannon, not theirs.
But then I read the reviews and the audience reactions over the following weeks; turns out New Yorkers loved this documentary. People who didn't even know how to ski or know who McConkey was, found the film compelling. And that is a tribute to McConkey's life and the legend he leaves behind.
Rotten Tomatoes, a movie review site where various reviews are compiled into one score, doesn't have a single review (and therefore no score) for Warren Miller's Extreme Winter or Ride or Impact. Not only does Rotten Tomatoes have a score for McConkey, but it is a score of 100%. I have seen better documentaries than McConkey, but Rotten Tomatoes is not wrong. McConkey is heartful, honest and grapples with a man who filmed almost every part of his life (even the tough parts), threading a narrative through his life that was as big as him. It's not just a skier's film; it's a filmgoer's film.
Join us at Lone Peak Cinema November 27 for the Big Sky Premiere of McConkey.
Perhaps it is bizarre to even review ski movies. Rarely are viewers seeking out ski movie reviews to make sure the film will have enough big mountain, enough street segments, or enough hits by People Under the Stairs. None of that matters ... until now.
With the onset of millennial movie-making comes this need to search for a greater significance in this post-9/11, post-Columbine world the Millennials grew up in. As Powder Magazine's John Stifter puts it: Can a ski movie format answer the search for meaning...the search for childlike harmony in this modern, ever-connected world we live in? Can Valhalla director Nick Waggoner make a ski movie with a drama screenplay format? In this case, that's not really for me to decide. I found Waggoner's Valhalla a refreshing, albeit explorative, take on the ski movie. With skinny, unshaven hippies at its narrative core and skiing, riding and discovering nature at its heart, Valhalla was entertaining and fun. This is not the average ski movie, but it provided covetous lines slowed down to a speed of pure emotion.
The mountains have beckoned us all over the years for various reasons and in various directions. Valhalla explores one of those reasons and a few of those directions by showing a narrative of a man who may tap into the occasional "experimental" realm of self-exploration, but above all he taps into skiing, snow and nature to find that deeper meaning in life.
I'm not going to lie and say this ski film is for everyone. If I were to see one ski film this year it might not even be this one, but Valhalla is beautiful in its experimental journey toward finding something unknown amongst the known. I ski dozens of days a year, but do I take away something new each day? Perhaps I should.
My takeaway from Valhalla: I may know how to ski, but do I really know myself when I am skiing? And is it possible to ever really know the mountain, especially Lone Mountain and her brethren Andesite, Flat Iron and Spirit, even though I call it my home?
The place I call home.
"Winter is Coming" is the slogan of HBO's Game of Thrones. It is the motto of one of the families on the show (and in the novels) and is the name of the first episode of the first season. Game of Thrones uses the slogan not just because the season of winter overwhelms characters and plot, but also because it is a metaphor for the coming evil and darkness upon the land. How they couldn't be more wrong. Here are a few photo glimpses into the brightness and joy of winter at Big Sky Resort:
The old man in Into the Mind.
If I could describe Into the Mind in one word that word would be: Inspired. Sherpas Cinema's Into the Mind is inspired by skiers and snowboarders who are alive and who have passed, who are professional and amateur, and Into the Mind is inspired by film and filmmaking. Historically, ski films get us pumped for ski season, pumped to try that run or trick we've yet to conquer, and pumped to seek adventure. Rarely do ski films get us pumped to go to the movies. Into the Mind is that rare exception: it does both.
As I watched I was reminded of the mini-series Into the West (2005), a mini-series tackling the conquering of the West; Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), where a man is trapped inside his own mind, unable to share with others what he is feeling or thinking; and of the Mitchell and Kenyon Factory Films, some of the earliest footage ever recorded on film, which shows everyday people-you and I-coming out of the factory after work. If we were part of those early factory workers being filmed we would have been handed leaflets to come to the Mitchell and Kenyon lab that night to see ourselves on film. Into the Mind puts us on film and then shows us the wonder of ourselves.
There is a stillness in this film that even commands the opening sponsors and advertisers to be inert. The old man holding a photograph harking back to photographers Fazal Sheikh or Steve McCurry's portraits of war survivors makes us reminiscent of our own personal wars, on and off the snow. The stillness and the old man also offer up the theme of memory (a long-time theme in film history) and how capturing ourselves on film begs us to ask: How does memory and capturing a moment in time affect us? Do we remember the event or the film that captured the event? All-in-all, Into the Mind has something for everyone. It may not all be skiers and boarders shredding to pop music or watching someone going bigger than we've ever seen before, but it is an anthology. Each part creates the whole film, yet could also stand alone. Thus the film is not only inspired, but inspires us.
In the words of one skier in the film: "Skins off, skis on."
The view from the main character of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
Film still from Mitchell and Kenyon Factory Films.
Here lies my top ski-related costumes to tickle the trick-or-treater's fancy:
1) The Holy Ski Fool: This is a take on The Holy Fool, a character who possesses wisdom through simple-mindedness. A take on the gaper, The Holy Ski Fool may look less than stellar, but will progress the spirit of the sport far beyond my measly understanding of it. Due to the nature of the wisdom of this character, the costume is completely up to the fool.
2) Saucer Boy: In light of McConkey hitting theaters this month, dust off that round sled and honor the spirit of Shane McConkey the best way one can: through Saucer Boy.
Saucer Boy in all his glory.
3) Dumb and Dumber, I mean, Harry and Lloyd: Although I don't condone trips to Aspen over Big Sky, I do love Harry and Lloyd's ski attire; always classic, never classy.
Harry and Lloyd looking sharp. Although Harry's ski suit is nice as well.
4) 80s Skier: Think Hot Tub Time Machine, but remember how we did it before that movie was even written? Bust out those leg warmers (I never put them away), scrunchie, fanny pack, and grab a hot pink headband, this look will kill.
The 80s want their poles back.
5) Glen Plake: This one may actually end up being more suitable for the ladies out there. Beware, getting the gel into and out of long hair may be more trouble than it's worth. On the other hand, going as Glen Plake makes one unmistakable.
Glen Plake is the man (but we ladies can still go as Plake).
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