Film Review – Winter Project
What’s different about this film is the way that it came together. Unable to secure the necessary funding for a feature-length action documentary through traditional channels, the Anchorage Alaska based Hybrid Color Films collective decided to put it to their audience—and started a Kickstarter campaign.
The sled community rallied, and by November 30th 2013, the production company had raised their goal of $140,000, which would ultimately be allotted to heli-time, travel, production, and other expenses.
The process by which this sled film was funded has made it highly anticipated, as eager backers await the finished product of their investment. During all stages of the production, the cast and crew steadily fed social media channels, building awareness and hype for the project amongst the sledding community at-large.
This is not your ordinary sled flick. In addition to what is ultimately some very sick riding, the making of the film plays a major role here as well. Not long into the introduction, the film truly begins to feel like the culmination of an entire project, rather than just another slick sledding movie. Beyond the usual documentary insider tell-alls, the producers give a nod to the invested audience by letting them in on some of the production processes, which serves to draw back the curtains and reveal the project as an entity larger than the on-screen result.
The film takes you on an emotional rollercoaster right off the bat. After establishing the success of the crowd funding effort and the emotional high of dreams poised to be fulfilled, an immediate crisis is encountered in the form of absolutely dismal snow conditions, possibly the worst that Alaska has had in living memory.
As the reality of filming such a big project sets in, the appearance of present day big-name riders such as Cory Davis and Brett Turcotte ease the tension, holding our hands and leading us to believe that no mountain is insurmountable.
After setting the tone for the present day story, the film then shifts into the “snowmachining” cultural history of AK. There is quite a lot of vintage footage—which you might expect from a documentary—and it plays well here to establish the deepest roots of the AK freestyle scene. As the film carries on, it touches on the paths of many different people who have either participated in, or documented the progression of backcountry freestyle riding along the way, including to no small degree, the Turnagain Hardcore and Frontier Films crews.
Historical segments are well balanced by returns to the present, as the film follows the progress of winter’s passage and the goings-on of the current AK sled scene elite through the X-Games, an Alyeska booter session, and a tantalizing Valdez backcountry segment. Some of the most progressive freestyle riding to-date can be seen.
There is no lack of emotional moments here either. Several of the cast members recount a deadly avalanche in 2008 that took the lives of two dear friends, one of which was heavily involved in the film scene, and later on, paraplegic athlete Paul Thacker gets back on the horse so-to-speak, and launches a 100+ foot jump on his adapted sled in an inspiration turn.
The cinematography and direction are top-shelf. There is plenty of what has become standard issue these days—super smooth, super slow-motion footage. Beyond that, particular attention to production value has been paid with jib-crane one shots, steadicam follows and other top-notch film techniques. The titling and motion graphics are superb and subtle—they don’t leave the viewer feeling like they’ve been slapped in the face. Tricky timelines and disjointed segments are well pieced together with seamless transitions. You can tell that this is a film made by passionate film-making professionals, not just another video made by guys who like sledding.
Winter Project held its World Premiere on November 20 for an appreciative crowd at The Bear Tooth Theatre Pub in hometown Anchorage, AK. You can get it now on DVD at sledding retail outlets and dealerships, and on iTunes.
For more info, check out winterproject.net