For their 14th (14!) annual film, Level 1 Productions followed the formula that brought the Denver-based company their first POWDER Award for Movie of the Year last winter. Sunny, last year's film, didn't take itself too seriously and flowed with fun. In Partly Cloudy many of the same characters return with the notable and highly publicized absence of Tom Wallisch. Five years ago, if someone told me that Henrik Harlaut, Phil Casabon, and Wallisch wouldn't be in the Level 1 film, I would've thought that film would struggle. But the loss of those three has given rise to new stars. If there's one thing Josh Berman and crew are great at it's making minor celebrities out of their skiers.
The film opens with a black and white throwback intro to silent film days, highlighting a few crashes and the goofy organic moments that happen in between massive backcountry jumps and breathtaking urban feats. And then it's on to Will Wesson.
Wesson has opened and closed more Meathead Films' ski movies than any other athlete in the now web-only East Coast film company's history. It's great to finally see Wesson put together a full-segment, complete with the impressive circus, rewind-worthy tricks that have made him a street skiing phenomenon.
His Rochester, New York, longtime friend Ahmet Dadali follows with a segment that ski film aficionados knew he was capable of putting together after his POWDER Awards Breakthrough Performer season years ago. Dadali has struggled with injuries in the past, but appeared to be healthy and hitting the streets hard this last winter.
It's worth noting that the transitions in Partly Cloudy are seamless, with one athlete's segment and song bleeding into the next. It may be small and unnoticeable, but it adds fluidity that's often missing in the cut-and-paste ski films of today.
Tim McChesney is a rising star and arguably one of the hardest working skiers, demonstrated by crash after crash until he gets his trick just right. John Ware makes a welcomed cameo, as does Niklas Eriksson. Sharing a segment, while not as praise-worthy of having your own, is a throwback to the days when guys like Dave Crichton and Mickael Deschenaux would share a song and two minutes. Level 1 found a nice balance here and it is awesome. Just awesome.
What follows is a Superunknown segment that replaces the often-formulaic "friends" section. The kids that made the finals in Level 1's annual talent search are impressive, with former Toy Soldier Productions standouts Shay Lee and Sandy Bovillle leading the charge. After this segment, it was clear that even if Level 1 continues to lose star skiers to solo projects their talent pool is deeper than the snow in the B.C. segment that comes later in the movie.
My favorite segment wasn't necessarily the strongest one. Logan Imlach traveled over to meet with the Real Skifi skiers in Finland. The circus crew of Internet fame ride bicycles with their skis on, swing on ropes to get to handrails, and generally perform what can only be called a hybrid between street skiing, flatland bike tricks, and ballet skiing. While I wanted more circus (there's a backflip to rail stall that's insane so I'm being a spoiled brat here), I enjoyed the concept of sending a Level 1 athlete to ski with an entirely different style of skiers. In the past, film companies would take the best guy in the crew (see: Karl Fostvedt from Toy Soldiers, Nick Martini from Stept, Will Wesson from Meatheads) and add them into the mix. Here, we get a look into another crew entirely different from Level 1's and it adds a freshness to the overall feel of the movie.
I won't spoil the rest of the film, but the highlights include an incredibly fun trip to Josh Bibby's cabin in the woods, Wiley Miller, L.J. Strenio, and Banks Gilberti making great, full segments, two solid park segments at both Whistler and Sun Valley, Lucas Stal Madison making good on his Superunknown win, and a trip to France.
Chris Logan, another hardworking, talented skier that's shared parts in the past, put together a worthy closing segment, one that perhaps makes him a dark horse (or a Dahrk horse) candidate for a Full Throttle Performance at the 14th annual POWDER Awards.
Berman and Freedle Coty, along with a smattering of talented freelance cinematographers, certainly kept the fun feel of Sunny present in Partly Cloudy. The cast of the film is huge, with many skiers like Torin Yater-Wallace and Max Hill making brief cameos. My only complaint is the film feels long, but I'm not sure where I would cut if I were editing the film. Partly Cloudy stays under the hour mark with credits.
With many of this year's films taking a more serious approach, or going on storytelling, Level 1 keeps it light, funny, and fun, making Partly Cloudy a film to watch once and watch again. I watched it three times. When it comes time for POWDER Awards voting, they'll certainly be a contender. Whether Level 1 receives back-to-back Movie of the Year awards remains to be seen.
Look for Partly Cloudy on iTunes starting Tuesday, September 24, or catch Level 1 on the road for their film tour.