Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Movie Review: In the High Country

It was during a snowy stretch earlier this year that Cory went to weekly run club at Runner's Roost and met Anton Krupicka for the first time. Anton came to speak at the run club and he took time to run alongside everyone and chat during the six-mile run. Cory came back saying that Tony is the kind of guy that when you meet him, you instantly feel bad for anything negative you ever thought about him. I think deep down a lot of people are just jealous when they realize that they are not willing to give up their life and live on practically nothing so that they can run all day. In order to cope with this sadness, people assume that Tony must not be a nice guy. It was at this event that Cory learned two things: people are wrong and there was a movie being made called "In the High Country."

If you are unfamiliar with TK and you have no idea what this film is about, here's a link to the trailer. To prime you for this review and the movie in general, here are some things to highlight from the trailer. If you have a musical ear, you might notice how deliberate Joel, the film-maker, is about the musical selection and how he times it with some great shots. Also you might notice that there isn't any dialogue. Does it catch your attention that they highlight the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the credits in a way that you would highlight a featured actor? This is all intentional. Going into the movie experience, you should prepare yourself mentally as if you were viewing art in a gallery not as if you were going to a movie theater to be entertained.

We went to see the film during it's world premiere event in Boulder this past Saturday. As we were driving over the the Dairy Center for the Arts after eating a delicious dinner at Illegal Pete's, we saw a very skinny hipster on a bike almost get creamed but a guy on a moped. We got a little closer and realized that it was actually Anton on the bike. Ha!

Buzz Burrell did a great job of facilitating the evening. When you get in a group of ultra-runners, it can be very awkward. In general, the kind of people who are attracted to a sport where you spend copious amounts of time by yourself outside often causing your body agony are shy and introverted people who don't like to talk about themselves. Buzz had his work cut out for him trying to get Joel and Anton to open up to the large audience. Fortunately the introductions were short and we quickly started the viewing of the 30-minute film.  Joel literally just played the latest edition of the film off his laptop. No DVD yet or anything.

The film did not disappoint.  The opening credits were exhilarating and actually one of the most enjoyable parts of the film. You can see Joel trying to set the foundation for the main theme of the film: A life-giving connection to the land and an overall need in every human's life for a sense of place.  After the credits, we get to see Tony's hometown of Niobrara, Nebraska where his dad, Ronnie, talks candidly about Tony and his decision to live in the mountains of Colorado. What I enjoyed most about this section, entitled "Roots," is that they didn't downplay Nebraska at all. Nebraska is a state that most people spend little time in and try to drive through as quickly as possible. It would have been easy to make this section about Tony escaping to a grander place, but instead it established Nebraska's humble beauty as a launching point for Tony's desire to be rooted in a place.

The following sections, "The Search," "Vulnerability," "The Practice," and "Chasing Muses," all build off of this foundation highlighting the importance of a sense of place.  There were some harrowing scenes of Tony and Joel on Long's Peak and later during the Q&A they admitted that they had gone off route and not planned to do such a perilous climb.  You can tell that Tony is unprepared during this climb... he seems cold and he admits to being very afraid. But I admire the vulnerability that both men showed by allowing this section to be such a prominent part of the film. It shows that at heart, Tony is an adventurer. He's not out to be the best at anything, he simply wants to enjoy how his body can travel efficiently through the mountains.

There is footage taken from a variety of peaks. As many people know, Tony was out to set a speed record for Nolan's 14, a 100 mile route that bags 14 of Colorado's 14ers. Tony had a bad day during the recent attempt and had to stop after 6 peaks. But this film wasn't about Nolan's or any FKT's. It wasn't about racing or even training. It wasn't even about Tony. TK could have been easily replaced with any other ultra-distance trail-runner. It was a celebration of the majesty of our earth and our ability as humans to connect and explore it. As such, there is little dialogue and instead there is more a focus on getting artistic shots that convey emotion and cultivate a desire in the audience to get out of their seats and enjoy wherever they are.

Joel accomplished this so well by seamlessly integrating a musical experience into the film. Many of the songs were written and performed by a group local to Joel's area in WV. The group, named Cusique, has most of their music available on Bandcamp. Take a listen! In one of my favorite sections, Mason Jenning's Ulysses was layered in the background.  Even for people who don't have a musical ear, you will definitely take notice of how Joel uses the rythm of certain songs to determine the editing of scenes. Clips are cut to match the natural beat of the song in the background. During the post-viewing Q&A session, Joel said that while he was waiting for Tony to complete the crux move during their Long's Peak adventure he was probably singing the song that he put in the background of the film. This guy is intentional.

After the film was finished, Buzz once again took the mic and invited Andrew Skurka (Go-Lite athlete and professional hiker), Peter Bakwin (Ultimate Direction athlete and founder of the Fastest Known Times website), and Stephanie Ehret (Ultra-runner) to come to the front. He asked them to get the conversation going and to talk about their impressions of the film. All were very shy and seemed reluctant to speak, but it was good to get the ball rolling. Then Joel and Tony were back up fielding questions again.

Most interestingly has been the debate about distribution of the film. If you read the comments section of this irunfar review of the film, you might be as appalled as me at how angry people are that the film isn't available yet via digital download.  I realize that since I've already seen the film my thirst to see it has been satiated, but it is crazy how we as consumers have this need to have whatever we want right now. If people were to meet Joel Wolpert, they would realize that he is an artist and NOT a business man. After spending a whole year making this film, it seems that he is taking time to recharge (be with his family, perhaps?). Distribution is important, but now that his art is out there, his mission is accomplished. Distro is secondary. He mentioned that they are working on digital dowload and Buzz mentioned they are also trying to field the overseas requests as well.

I've been fascinated by the comments in the irunfar review that diverge from the film and use the forum as a way to discuss personal opinions of Anton. From a social sciences perspective, it is interesting to look at the comments that seem more like a personal attack on Anton and how those people don't actually use their real names when commenting. Additionally, these commentors seem to be the ones farther removed from the ultra-running community here in Colorado that Tony is a part of. I hope that these kind of reactions from people who have not yet actually seen the film and have not personally met Tony don't mar the reception of the film itself.

It's a must-see. I will be forking over the dollars whenever it does become available to purchase.

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