Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Absinthe Films


Absinthe Films – 13 years of full proof riding (Cont)

Nicolas Müller’s first filming trip to North America resulted in an inspiring opening part in 2002’s Vivid, which, coupled with Romain’s aerial assault in Alaska and Hemsedal, Travis Rice’s hammers, and quite possibly the best backside 180 heli shot ever filmed, by the late Tristan Picot, Absinthe fully realized a breakthrough with US audiences. Even still they continued to shoot as much as possible in Europe.

Hostynek hangs out filming Tristan Picot (RIP) for the 2002 film, Vivid. Hemsedal, Norway. PHOTO: Scott Sullivan

While other big-league film crews operating at the time returned to the same old spots year after year—in Tahoe, Sonora, and the Wasatch—Pop, Saturation, and More took viewers to places like Arlberg, Austria; Hokkaido, Japan; and little-known Swiss playgrounds like Crans-Montana, St. Luc, and Le Portes du Soleil. “There are a lot factors that go into the Absinthe vibe—one of them is the spots, going places nobody else really films,” says Solberg. David Vladyka, a Swiss cameraman for Absinthe for the last 10 years, has been a key to exporting the goods from these misty zones in the Alps.

Justin reveals another reason for the attraction of European locations: “There are no snowmobiles. It’s not even an option, so it’s perfect. It’s a very different experience in the mountains on a snowmobile. Without them, people look at mountains differently. Instead of riding bumps for an hour to get to the shit, we can take a gondola. There’s this mentality that you’ve got to go farther with your sled to get to the good shit and you don’t. You end up whizzing past all this rad shit thinking you need to get to somewhere else. How many film crews film off the lifts in North America? Very few.”

For Utahan Bode Merrill, who first appeared in Neverland, the appeal of Absinthe has always been “the Alaska lines, obviously.” And there’s just no denying that these movies have imprinted the hallowed faces of Haines into the minds of a generation. Bode’s first trip was for NowHere: “Imagine you’re a rookie and you get the chance to go heli-boarding with Nicolas, Wolle, [Lucas] Debari, and Blair [Habenicht] in the sickest terrain you’ve ever seen, with the best snow conditions imaginable. That’s exactly what happened.” Stepping to Haines as a rookie says a lot about Bode’s ability and the Absinthe program.

Winter 2012 was a really good year to be a local at Laax. The storms just kept coming and Nico never needed to leave. After gently setting down this fat back sev, he just pointed it to the bottom and went home for an afternoon tea. PHOTO: Silvano Zeiter

When asked how they introduce new, younger riders to the AK filming experience, Justin says, “We don’t have a rookie crew and a veterans crew. We mix everyone together because that’s the best way for them to learn. We always have an experienced guy in the group, and the new guys can just tap into how the masters are doing it. They have a lot of respect for those veteran guys and want to emulate their style and their approach to it, because obviously it’s working.”

Near the end of his seven-minute part in last season’s Twelve, Bode returned to Haines and fired a massive tailgrab seven off a cornice into a chute at Birthday Bowl (named for its discovery by Absinthe on Nico’s birthday years ago) which, he says, “was the best feeling I’ve ever had on a snowboard.” And though the Absinthe legacy is largely built on epic Alaska segments, the bigger picture, in Justin’s view is simple: “For the riders to have as much fun as possible.” Nico adds that this approach “let’s the rider’s personality speak” and has taught him “to enjoy myself and do whatever I have fun with.”

For some riders fun is found in Alaska, for others it’s the streets. For guys like Bode it’s both. On top of the Haines stuff, Bode’s marathon ender in Twelve also featured a healthy stack of street hams shot mainly in Salt Lake by Shane Charlebois.

Shane has been a cameraman and critical member of the crew since joining up for the filming of Pop and documenting the legendary sessions at Pyramid and Chad’s Gap, which led to Travis Rice earning his 2004 Rider Of The Year Award. His connections and camerawork in the Salt Lake scene helped Absinthe seriously step up their US-based efforts. Justin calls Shane’s link to the riders in SLC “instrumental” to the introduction of “full-spectrum snowboarding,” an idea that broadened the scope of their films to include more urban riding beginning with 2006’s More. Over the years there were rail shots here and there—OG Absinther Nico Droz got most of them—but with the inclusion of guys like Justin Bennee, Erik Christensen, MFM, and even [Nate] Bozung in More, the films began to reflect the progression taking shape on all terrain. According to Solberg, “Shane deserves a lot of credit for making shit happen in the States—he holds it down.” And the footage doesn’t lie. The ongoing addition of new riders bringing the street heat, like Dan Brisse and Bode, makes Shane’s role even more impactful. He’s also the only cameraman in the crew who shoots digital.

“I will shoot any kind of camera,” Shane says. “After many years of shooting with film, the process of shooting with digi really helps with what we’re doing. Being able to show a rider the shot right there at the spot allows those guys to know if they want to hit it again or be satisfied with what happened. That is huge. With film the rider may think it was awesome, but they don’t see the shots for a month or more. Sometimes we get the transfer back and they think, ‘Damn, I should have hit it again that day.’” But ultimately, he adds, “it doesn’t matter what you shoot with, it’s how you shoot it.”

Thirteen years of filming for Absinthe and chasing powder around the globe, and Austria’s Wolle Nyvelt is still getting shots at Mayrhofen. No place like home. PHOTO: Julien Petry

Is it? That’s a contentious idea in a post-Art Of Flight world. Snowboard movie audiences have now been titillated by the surrealism of super slow-mo and the spells cast by the floating steady cam. But while mainstream action sports viewers may respond to a pyrotechnic display, a dubstep soundtrack, and over-the-top production quality, that’s not the audience that Absinthe is after. And it’s not an aversion to new technology (or explosions or even dubstep per se); it’s simply a matter of style. Gigi describes the Absinthe essence as “pure snowboarding,” adding that “there aren’t many directors who can make snowboarding look the way Justin Hostynek does. There is a magic and artistry that comes with his style of documenting snowboarding.” Wolle Nyvelt, who has appeared in every movie starting with Tribal, says it’s “all about just doing the best movies possible—everything else is second priority.”

Hostynek by his nature deflects any credit back toward the riders: “Being out it in the mountains with people who are doing rad shit—it’s inspiring. Ultimately, we’re making these movies for the riders who are in them, that’s our audience. We want the film to represent them as best we can.”

Considering the consistency of their output and the reputation they’ve built by delivering pure snowboarding so well for so long, Absinthe’s truly rider-driven approach has evolved into an artistic affirmation in which passion and production become one. The latest expression of this long-standing ideal can be seen in their new movie Resonance. Go watch it.