(Last Updated On: January 30, 2009)
The Wish List is a ski film written, directed, produced, and edited by Ellis Smith. Previously, Ellis had teamed up with Jesse Levine to create ski films under the name of Thrillhead Productions. But, in 2008 the partners split, enabling Ellis to give birth to his own ski film company, Blacksmith Productions.
The Wish List features two large segments filmed in Crested Butte during their most epic season on record. Skiers and snowboarders include Frank Konsella, Jeremy Wegner, Justin Bunting, Zack Marquis, Spencer Green, Susan Mol, Kent Hyden, and John Mason. Ellis embedded interviews with many of the skiers into the footage where the skiers talked about the plethora of snow received this season. While reflecting on two memorable days he shared with Jeremy while skiing the Anthracites backcountry, Frank Konsella stated, “Those are the days that I’ll remember when I’m old and gray.”
The ongoing theme of The Wish List is what is on the “wish list” for the skiers and riders featured in the movie. For Jon Johnston and Jack Hannan, it was Mount Queen Bess. For Mathias Giraud, it was the first ski base jump of Mount Engineer. For Amy Flygare it was to get out there and ride lots and lots of powder. For Frank Konsella, it was to finish skiing all of Colorado’s fourteeners. Every snow junkie has a wish list – some future goals, desired peaks, or dreamy lines they want to ski. Ellis’s film encapsulates the essence of that spirit.
Previous Thrillhead Creations movies had been overwrought with voice-overs largely from Ellis Smith himself. However, in The Wish List, Ellis lets the skiers and riders tell their own stories through interviews and reflections. In doing this, Ellis brings the story back to the ski movie. Each segment is not only full of fantastic skiing and riding, but there is also a story. This story is the heart of the ski movie.
The stories bring character to the movie and meaning to the footage. For instance, Amy Flygare and Jen Swanson are both excellent snowboarders enjoying all the powder that northern Utah has to offer. But, through embedded interviews the viewer realizes that these ladies are not just snowboarders; They are wives and moms. The daily chores of being a mom makes getting out into the backcountry all the more difficult, but at the same time, drives them to ride harder. In another segment, Mathias Giraud performs a ski base jump off of Mount Engineer, CO. The base jump is exciting in and of itself, but Giraud’s interviews reveal that he performed first ski base jump of the mountain, completing a goal he’s been working toward for over four years. This knowledge makes the feat even more fascinating.
My favorite story is that of Jon Johnston and Jack Hannan’s attempt to ski Mount Queen Bess in British Columbia. Ski mountaineering stories such as this are often absent in present-day ski movies. Too often the producers focus on raw ski footage and not the story behind the footage. Ellis demonstrates that ski mountaineering footage can be appealing. Though Johnston and Hannan were unable to summit Mount Queen Bess after three separate attempts, the footage of their climb is still exhilarating. Viewers experience what it is like to face this mountain, complete with it’s steeps and unbreakable ice.
Perhaps the best thing about The Wish List is the overall feeling of the movie. The athletes featured in this film are not the ritsy-glitsy money-making heli-dropping super-sponsored skiers and snowboarders that appear in so many other films. Though the lines they ski may not include the 100-ft hucks so plentiful in Teton Gravity films, their lines have meaning. Often, these people have worked to get to these lines, perhaps even taking years to actually succeed in skiing a desired line. These are real people who work hard so that they can play hard. They enjoy skiing not for fame or fortune, but because it feeds their souls. Any person who truly loves skiing shares in this feeling and Ellis captures it well.
Ellis Smith portrays the life of a ski bum in The Wish List. Through interviews and footage alike, he tells a story. This story is the web of wishes, hopes, and desires of every skier, weaved in with their dragons, trials, and triumphs. I believe this is Ellis’s best movie yet, and I look forward to more films by Blacksmith Productions.
Ellis Smith is currently filming for Blacksmith Productions in Kyrgyztan with Ryan Koupal. They have created a blog which catalogs this adventurous undertaking. Koupal’s blog-writing is very entertaining. Here’s an excerpt:
“Look, Mister, you cannot go to that place. You will be eaten by wolves.” A lone Kyrgyz guest sat across the table from Sabyrbek, anxious to make direct eye contact with the two crazy Americans who were dead-set on heading to live for a week in the mountains of the remote Suusamyr region. The guest spoke up, and Sabyrbek turned to us with a translation: “This man, he is from the countryside. He is a hunter. He says that the wolves will eat you.” I looked at the man. He looked at Sabyrbek. I looked at Ellis. This was something we hadn’t considered.
“Do you have a gun?” Sabyrbek asked. “No…we have splitboards. And ice axes. And a tripod.” The hunter spoke again. “It’s love-making season. He says many wolves will be together, not just one. One is OK…but many will be a problem for two American boys.” More words from the hunter. “He says you should wait until February 22.”
February 22 wasn’t an option – it was January 12, and our flight out of Kyrgyzstan was scheduled for January 25. We had thought about all of the possible things that could go wrong in Suusamyr: Plunging off the edge of a 3856m pass in a shared taxi with a rowdy local driver; losing a few toes, fingers, or a nose to an average winter minimum of -25; taking some big chances in big terrain. Getting eaten by wolves had not made the list.
Check out their full story on: http://kyrgyzstanplan.blogspot.com/