Filming Winter Sports
by Walter Metz — Montana State University
June 04, 2007 – 03:20
I teach media studies in a department committed to training a new generation of natural history filmmakers. Two very different representations of the natural world are revealed in a 3 minute clip I compiled which juxtaposes ABC/ESPN’s January 2007 coverage of the Honda skiercross competition in Sun Valley, ID with a beautiful short film by my colleague, filmmaker Cindy Stillwell. High Plains Winter is about the human use of the bleak Rocky Mountain West in winter, via the bizarre sport of ski-joring, a kind of hybrid of rodeo and water skiing. Whereas ESPN’s coverage is full of adolescent platitudes—“time changes everything, evolution is inevitable”—and forwards a completely andocentric ignorance of the natural world, Stillwell’s film is quiet, allowing for an artistic meditation on the relationship between humans, animals, and nature. My favorite contrast is between Stillwell’s shot of the ski-joring event sign, buried in the snow, seemingly haphazardly, in contrast to the expensive and frivolous ESPN graphics announcing with wall-to-wall voice-over narration and rock music the skiercross competition. In this sense, both texts are experimental, reliant on aggressive aesthetic techniques. However, ESPN uses visual stylization to hype a commercial event, while High Plains Winter poeticizes the close bond between humans and a seemingly barren land. Whether one film makes us more “stoked” than the other will depend upon our desire for a sustainable environment for our children’s future.