A&E » Arts

Focused on the mind



Matchstick’s latest release a more intellectual ride


By Shelley Arnusch

What: Focused — Canadian Premiere

Where: MY (Millenium) Place

When: Friday, September 19, 6:30p.m. & 9 p.m.

It began with nachos and fear and a ballsy, all-or-nothing gate crasher.

It was the early nineties and fledgling ski film producer Steve Winter enlisted longtime buddy Murray Wais to accompany him to the Ski and Snowboard convention in Las Vegas.

They had $150, a borrowed car and 50 copies of Winter’s first film Nachos and Fear , a 15-minute smack upside the ski industry’s head made with the funds acquired from cashing in his college tuition. They walked in ski-bums and walked out film producers on the payroll of industry giant K2.

In 1998 Winter and Wais, along with cinematographer-extraordinaire Scott Gaffney, renamed their company Matchstick Productions "to ignite the flame under the ski industry’s ass."

Since then, that flame has turned into a full-on bonfire. With the inclusion of Freeride Entertainment’s impressive oevre of mountain bike films, there are currently 22 feature-length action sports films bearing the MSP name.

More important than quantity is the respect MSP has earned in the tough action filming community for consistently delivering top quality footage with humour and innovative visuals. Their Ski Movie series and bio-pics have documented some of the most legendary skiing of the past decade and let people all over the world behold the unearthly talents of athletes Shane McConkey, Seth Morrison and others.

The latest ski release, Focused , makes its Canadian debut tonight with two screenings at MY Place. While the film will no doubt inspire fervent prayers for snow amongst the local ski community, Wais says to expect a more introspective MSP this time around. Gone are the rock ’n’ roll credits and snarky Brad Holmes rap vids, replaced with an examination of the freeskiing state of mind.

"It’s going to be a little bit different," admits Wais. "Our opening scene has a little bit more to do with being ‘focused’ in the mountains and more of, crazy as this sounds, the intellectual side of what skiing is about and what your head space is about, and how the pressures of everyday life are forgotten in the mountains."

The title’s significance explores what Wais calls the "mind state athletes get into when they’re going big."

Offering up their minds for examination are MSP standards like McConkey, Morrison and C.R. Johnson, along with a healthy Whistler/Pemberton collection of skiers that includes Hugo Harrisson, Chris Turpin, Mark Abma and more.

Though MSP is headquartered in Colorado and major funders insisted on an Aspen world premiere, screening the Canadian premiere in Whistler was a natural choice. The area and the Coast Mountains, says Wais, are a spiritual home for the company, making a crucial contribution of terrain and talent year after year.

Like every action sport video, Focused has its standouts. Wais cites McConkey’s rip down a 3,000 foot spine on a pair of plastic water-skis, and says to watch for Morrison skiing away effortlessly after landing the largest back-flip the seasoned MSP crew has ever witnessed. There’s also a post-season terrain park session on Blackcomb mountain involving a 130 foot-long table-top jump with a 150-foot landing strip, and a surreal handrail section in the Bronx after a freak snowstorm turned New York City into a winter wonderland.

That McConkey continues to stand out when others in MSP’s talent corps are beginning to pass the torch over to younger, hungrier bodies indicates a somewhat super-human ability. Careers in the action ski film industry are not based on longevity.

"This year especially, there’s a lot of people we’ve had in the past that aren’t going to be in the movie," says Wais. "They’ve gotten older, can’t really perform at the levels they used to."

"I don’t think you can be a ski movie star forever, just like I can’t make ski movies forever," he adds, "It’s hard, especially for the athletes. It’s super-competitive. There are a lot of hungry kids in Whistler that would die to be in our movies. Chris Davenport, for example, isn’t charging off 60 foot cliffs every time I roll the camera, but there are 150 kids in Whistler who will."

In the same sense, it’s the veteran skiers that best understand the filming process, the patience, and the evolution of a segment.

"It definitely helps that we have guys who have done it year after year," he says. "I can’t tell you how much easier it is to work with someone like Shane McConkey who’s been in 10 films, versus a first-timer who doesn’t quite see how much the course of the winter will affect the end result."

In the end the best films are those able to find an effective balance between experience and the raw, unbridled talent of the rippers of the future. But at ten years and counting, is the house of MSP still hosting all ages shows? Does the "more intellectual" tone of Focused indicate a shift by a major player in the immortal youth-fueled world of action sports filming? A decision to step away from the low brow lifestyle footage peppering the newer, lower-budget indie releases?

"We feel like we try to do things on almost a classier level," says Wais, "but as serious as we might take ourselves, in reality we’re total jokers. For us, it’s all about fun and laughing, and that’s kind of our general philosophy."

Catch the Canadian premiere of Matchstick Production’s Focused tonight (Friday, September 19) at the MY Place theatre. Tickets are $9.99 at the box office or through Ticketmaster in advance. Screenings are at 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. sharp. Call 604-935-8410 or check out www.skimovie.com for more information.

PULL QUOTE: "as serious as we might take ourselves, in reality we’re total jokers" — Murray Wais