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The Art of Flight Seattle Premiere

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The snowboard premiere season in Seattle got off to an intense—and oddly glitzy—start this past weekend: The Art of Flight, the 2-year-in-the-making, $2-million mega production by Curt Morgan and Travis Rice—a film that’s supposed to bridge the gap between the snowboard industry and the masses—played at Seattle’s McCaw Hall in downtown last weekend.

Instead of hordes of dirty snowboard kids crowding into small, dingy venues, reuniting after the summer months over sloshing drinks and grimy high fives, this scene was more… sophisticated? Hardly. Still, we shuttled into fancy hall, a space usually reserved for the opera. In the lobby, the Asymbol art gallery offered pictures captured during the film’s production. Inside, the giant theater was filled to near capacity. Seattle has a huge, vibrant rider community; it’s always fun see the madness ferment when they’re all forced to sit still in an enclosed room.

As per usual, the men behind the production spoke on stage before the show. Rice was introduced by Morgan as: “The man, the legend, my brother.” A brief obligatory acknowledgment of the riders and production crew from Rice, and the crowd settled down and respectfully geared up for what the legend had in store for their eyes and delicate shred souls.

The self-made hype for this movie couldn’t have ballooned any bigger. Its creators proclaimed the film would “change snowboarding forever.” They had the largest budget ever afforded a snowboard movie, three helicopters, and a cutting-edge Cineflex camera—the camera used for the Planet Earth series; and the inspiration for this project—so that seemed sort of reasonable. Then again, the title to TAOF’s prequel, That’s it, That’s All, seemed reasonable to them for a movie that was slated to be the first in a series…

But—cue the lights. Sit back and become: astounded.

From the opening scenes to the final flight into the sunset, visually, the movie is incredible: stunning, riveting, shake-your-head-with-mouth-agape, hold-your-breath-and-hang-on, incredible. Employing slow motion—at times, dramatic amounts of slow-mo—the movie captures profound images of snowboarding in ways that haven’t been done before: Movement is suspended in time and space before the audience. The beauty of the act is delivered. And those sensations that strike us at our core and make us so obsessed with riding deep pow or giant, swift faces—those are offered to the viewer.

It’s something that the masses can sit in wonderment of. And that the core audience can tap into.

Those visuals make me excited to snowboard and proud to be a part of this winter tribe. The title works well with the camera work, the helicopters, the airborne tricks, the slow-mo. It’s a good concept, a good title.

The movie depicts the fun of snowboarding portrayed in weirdly heightened segments of off-snow antics. It pays homage to legacy by bringing in preeminent riders like Jeremy Jones and Nicolas Muller. The crew traverses the globe in search of terrain to pioneer (Chile, Patagonia), and makes wonderlands of local spots (Jackson Hole, Revelstoke).  Beyond all that, the film documents the some of the most mind-blowing snowboarding occurring on the planet—innovative big-mountain freestyle.

But… something’s wrong.

Even as the movie builds upon its well-fashioned creativity, it corrodes from the inside—because, in sum, it’s excessive, dramatic, dripping with rock star punctuation and audacity.

An undercurrent of ill-timed trips due to weather; disturbing clashes with locals; and completely—and shockingly—reckless riding (Rice jumps from a helicopter into a foolish straightline down a huge face) tugs at the back of the viewer’s mind until it’s so much a part of the movie that you’re shifting uncomfortably in your seat watching the beautiful visuals tainted by bad decisions and…arrogance.

The movie is riddled with close—achingly close—calls with avalanches. In Patagonia, locals must be coaxed into a region they’re not comfortable with, and after persuading them, the snowboarding achieved is surprisingly lackluster; though the nature shots are stunning.

And in Canada we spend part of the movie waiting out the weather with the riders. Sure, there’s the “journey-not-the-destination” theme meant there, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that those shots were used because they had to be.

The amount presumed preparation that went into this project should have canceled these factors out—leaving only the golden gems of film clips strung together for the audience. The resources afforded this team that produced such lackluster results is embarrassing to the core community. In essence, it’s as if the darker side of snowboarding is actually magnified on the big screen. From “The facts are that The Art of Flight is probably the most gratuitous display of excess luxury by a core athlete that snowriding has ever seen.”

Not something for the masses to see.

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There are also weird cameos by Jeremy Jones which cause an uncomfortable juxtaposition with the three (overly glorified) helicopters used to film—one of which is almost lost to falling off a peak in a storm.

The movie is anchored by its Alaska and Jackson footage and by the snowboarding itself—the sick, sick skills of the world’s top athletes. But as far as changing the direction of snowboarding, I hate to say which way I think the undercurrent took it. I see no problem with making a “Nat-Geo” snowboarding movie, nor breaking the mold of the typical snowboard video in general. It’s good to know that the sport has come so far as to be celebrated in such fashion. But when the fashion starts to dictate the man, that’s a scary loss of dignity and soul. And evidence of that undermines this film… That’s change I don’t think any of us want to see “forever,” or at all.

The movie is an emotional roller coaster for sure—snowboarding is, in truth. But when the integrity of our craft is questioned, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the answers and return to our roots. And let masses follow.

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