When you're at the apex of a pyramid, the only way off is to either head back down, or find a secret door that takes you into another world. The latter would be the happy case for professional freeride mountain biker Darcy Turenne.
Turenne grew up in Comox on Vancouver Island, "skiing, biking, and riding killer whales..." If that sounds like a whimsical, Twitter-ish autobiography, given everything else she's accomplished in 30 short years, it's also entirely believable. Turenne graduated from the University of Victoria with a BA in Environmental Studies in 2007, the same year her flirtations with TV — begun as a professional freeride mountain biker and extending to part-time work during university — landed her as full-time host for the Ride Guide on Canada's Outdoor Life Network. The accompanying travel and adventure perks notwithstanding, her inquiring mind wasn't quite done with schoolin'. While finishing up an MA in Intercultural Communication, she convinced Royal Roads University to allow her to shoot a documentary on Indonesian female action-sport athletes as a thesis. "That's how I got involved in film and became a better surfer," she notes with some satisfaction.
That film, The Eighth Parallel, featured in festivals globally, and Turenne went on to direct commercial shorts, art, and travel joints. One of her earliest gigs involved travelling to the Republic of Georgia to make music videos at the behest of the son of a man campaigning to be Prime Minister. He eventually won, and an obscure Georgian music video languishes somewhere on the Internet for which Turenne was Director of Photography. Since then, the depth, breadth and tone of her work has spanned most genre's of short film, making it fitting that in April 2014, her short The Trip stole hearts, minds and all the hardware for Best in Show at the WSSF Olympus 72-hour Filmmaker Showdown.
Erudite, articulate and photogenic, much has naturally been written about Turenne, much of it exploring what attracted her to film. Absent is any consideration of what being a high-functioning athlete might bring to the filmmaker sensibility. "Proving to myself that I could create a career as a female professional freeride mountain biker made me confident — or crazy — enough to think I could make it as a self-taught filmmaker," relates Turenne. "The most important lesson I learned from sports is that if you're going to do something, you have to do it with conviction; in mountain biking for instance, if you don't commit to the jump you're going to be tense in the air, come up short, and probably explode. So I always try to commit to the element of a film that scares me most. I don't always hit the mark, but when I do, it's uncompromising conviction that makes it a great piece."
Her filmmaking moved quickly from straight-up doc work to whimsy, humour, art, and fiction, suggesting either a taste for wide exploration or the groundwork for something bigger. For her part, Turenne admits to a bit of both. "I get bored easily, I like art of all mediums, and I don't want to pigeonhole myself. Each film genre makes you grow in different ways. I love tight, well laid-out stories, but also abstract pieces that allow a viewer to use their imagination and create their own story," she offers. "But yes, I'm exploring and it's all getting tied together... I seem to have developed a style somewhere along the way, and I'm coming to terms with that."
Her latest whale ride, The Little Things, a feature documentary snowboard project focusing on environmental ethos and climate change, provided her with a number of filmmaking and story challenges. "To start, this was a two-year project. I was recruited to direct — and shoot and write and edit — by my good friend and badass pro snowboarder Marie France-Roy. Marie really cares about the world and wants to spread the word by featuring notable pros that are taking the greener path and inspiring others. Riders like Jeremy Jones, Gretchen Bleiler, Tamo Campos, Meghann O'Brien, and Marie herself are extraordinary people, and it's been interesting to hear their thoughts on the current state of the planet, and how we can help to preserve/improve it," says Turenne, noting that the doc-style is required to get much of this information across. "The process has been challenging—a terrible snow year with high instability this winter was frustrating for gathering footage, however, it's also a good indicator that global warming is very real and that the film's messaging is important."
Environmental noblesse oblige and kudos for her other work aside, Turenne seems most happy about nailing the 72-hour Filmmaker Showdown — and with good reason. "I've always loved the event's vibrant energy, and this year I meticulously planned for months, not knowing if we'd be able to pull off the precisely choreographed, five-minute continuous shot that I'd story-boarded. But we did and it felt especially good because it was a serious team effort. Winning is sweet, but sharing the win with a team that turned your vision into something extraordinary is even sweeter. Working under a deadline also suits me, so having only 72 hours made me perform better. Flashback to university exam time and things haven't changed — ha ha!"
Finally, one can't consider this auteur without probing her take on the current state of the sport she has such deep roots in. "High-end mountain bike films these days are technical feats of wizardry. The cinematography is super progressive, and the riding is insane. It's mind-blowing how far the bar can be raised each year. I like watching the good, high-budget films, but have zero interest in making one. I like making movies focused on simplicity and purity, not technical savvy. I've directed a few technically intense set-ups for commercial gigs, and while fun, it's not something I desire to do all the time. That said, I'm still inspired by mountain-bike films and "borrow" shot ideas every now and again. Ha ha. Mostly though, I'd rather just ride my bike for fun than watch others do it through my lens."
You can catch up with Darcy Turenne's latest projects at darcyturenne.com.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.