Before we talk about Level 1's latest film, Small World, we need to talk about changes in ski movie trends overall. The digital age has many ski film production companies leaving the annual format in favor of shorter, more digestible webisodes. Nowhere is this more evident than in the last five years of Powder Awards’ Movie of the Year nominees.
Two of the five companies, Sherpas Cinema and Sweetgrass Productions, have ditched their fall release for the more favorable fields of commercial work. Poor Boyz has all but left the snow for the warmer waters of surf and sail. Stept Productions moved to Stept Studios, producing commercial work for The North Face and other high-profile clients. The grind of producing another film proved to be too much for Lynsey Dyer and Unicorn Picnic after a critically-acclaimed run with Pretty Faces. Toy Soldier Productions shut down their shop as they graduated college, though alum Jonny Durst is at Level 1. Meathead Films is now Ski The East, releasing webisodes series to their passionate East Coast fan base. And Candide Thovex is off being perfectly French somewhere.
So who's left?
Teton Gravity took the top honor last year, altering their format to a more fun and relatable film. They have a great movie this year in Paradise Waits. Matchstick Productions, the most decorated film company in Powder Awards history, is still here with Fade to Winter. And after sixteen years, Level 1 Productions is back with their most enjoyable watch since Sunny, the 2013 Movie of the Year.
Level 1’s Small World, switched to location-based segments, leaving behind the star-making solo segments for the likes of Tom Wallisch, Ahmet Dadali, Henrik Harlaut, Phil Casabon, Parker White, and Chris Logan. Frankly, it's a welcome change. The flow of this film is inherently better with its drone-induced zoom-in, zoom-out transitions and catchy soundtrack.
Small World, features Level 1's most relatable cast of skiers. They're as talented a crew as any in the industry, cruising their way through Japan, Switzerland, a hot wheels loop in Utah's Grizzly Gulch (more on that in a minute), Finland, Whistler, predictably Boston, which may be the "Japan segment" of 2015-16 in that all ski movies have to have one, Alaska, and, without ruining the surprise, an unlikely location for my favorite closing segment in years.
The Grizzly Gulch chapter might offer a glimpse at where backcountry skiing on film trips can go. While the "slow roasting, conditions-suck" narrative has been told and told again, the Level 1 crew flips the script, going out in spring-like conditions and building a crazy-looking hand-dug feature that local Utah skier and SuperUnknown Winner Mitchell Brower absolutely slays. This isn't the first time skiers have done something like this (4bi9 did it with their Guacamole Gulch segment in their last film before A.J. Dakoulas joined Kyle Decker to form Good Company with Tom Wallisch), but damn it if it doesn't kick ass all the same.
Level 1 struck out shooting good powder segments for last year's Less. This year, there is lots of good pow shredding, something Level 1 undoubtedly wants, including a 4FRNT team segment featuring Eric Hjorleifson, Kye Petersen, and Level 1 Director of Greasy Good Times, Wiley Miller.
Tatum Monod follows up on last year's segment with her first trip to Alaska where she handles steep faces like a veteran. Monod's presence in the film shouldn't come as a surprise. The Canadian signed with Red Bull last winter and has been hanging with Meru director Jimmy Chin for a Travel Alberta commercial shoot. All of that mountain knowledge pays off in a segment that'll no doubt put Monod in the running for Best Female Performance at the 16th Annual Powder Awards.
Simply, this is a fun film to watch, one that left me looking forward to the cool days of fall turning to the cold days of winter. Ski season is around the corner. Level 1's Small World has me waiting anxiously for days on snow.
For nearly two decades, Level 1 was perhaps considered the underdog to mainstays TGR, Poor Boyz, and MSP. With Small World, Josh Berman, Durst, and Freedle Coty prove Level 1 does not only have staying power, but the ability to move the ever-changing ski movie genre forward with a good, spring break vibes. See for yourself, watch Small World On Demand here.