Words by Matt Masson.
Jyosei is the Japanese word for woman. JYOSEI is a short film about eight women’s month-long trip to Japan last year. Australian skier, Maddie Jones, took six other female skiers and one filmer/editor, Laura Obermeyer, to Japan for a month of skiing street and –because it was Japan—they had to squeeze in a bit of pow. Maddie and Laura told NS about the trip, the movie and their thoughts on women in freeskiing.
So who first thought of making JYOSEI?
Maddie: “In July of last year, Brooke Potter —who’s one of the girls that’s done the most street skiing— messaged me. We had wanted to do projects in the past, but nothing ever really happened. She floated the idea of going to Japan together. I thought that was an awesome idea, so I took that seed and ran with it. Within a week I was like: ‘Laura do you wanna be filmer and editor!’
“She was immediately like: ‘oh I’m so in!’. I had a full rider list and was already working on a proposal to start talking to companies for sponsorship. It was just the perfect combination of elements that lit a fire and everything just flowed really easily.”
Maddie and Laura
Why did you choose Laura?
M: “Laura and I have known each other for a little while. I’m Australian, so I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to work with her, but I absolutely think that she’s a genius and I’ve always really admired her work.
“I don’t even need a whole hand to count the number of female filmers, but even if I did have a field of 100, I’d still pick Laura because I think she’s brilliant.”
Laura, you must have been pretty stoked to make a movie like this?
Laura: Yeah! Maddie sent me a PDF proposal, that had a list of athletes she wanted and a page of it was of and about me. I was on my way to Zermatt actually and ended up making a bit of a scene in the airport because it felt like a dream come true. To have someone think of me as a capable filmer for a project like JYOSEI means a lot to me, especially since I have been mostly focused on still photography for the last five years or so.”
With the push for greater equality gathering momentum in other industries, is a movie like JYOSEI a bit overdue in freeskiing?
L: “There’s a lack of representation for girls that are filming, there’s not a lot of female photographers, and just not a lot on the media side of things. That’s how I’m approaching this. If 15-year-old-me knew that there’s a female ski-filmmaker out there, then she would absolutely lose her sh*t. It is about representation for women in the streets, in powder, and on-screen, but the majority of it –for me at least—is what’s going on behind the scenes and behind the camera.
The need for that question to be asked in the first place answers it. Being underrepresented is not something you are often aware of if you aren’t the one being affected by it. There is nothing like JYOSEI out yet, at least that I am aware of. It’s a void within the realm of content in freeskiing that we are able to fill. Putting time and energy toward supporting the progression of skiing is crucial, and is the responsibility of those of us who have the ability to. That includes all means of participants in our community, but in my opinion, it especially falls on the shoulders of visual creators and brands. They’re the ones with leverage. For example, my photos are often seen by thousands of people. That gives me the ability to transfer that attention to the subject of my work. For that reason, being aware of why I share an image has become important to me. If you have the ability to uplift someone, even if it’s just on social media, you should.”
M: “If we think women are underrepresented as skiers, it’s got to be even more so on the production side. Skiing might be 1 in 10 but production it has to be 1 in 100. For me, personally, I’ve found that all my favorite team managers, have all been women. I just find they’re really good in organizing roles and I know so many people that have struggled to get product or get hold of someone or reply to emails, and that’s always from dudes. I just think girls are really good at organizing, maybe that’s a bit sexist, throwing everybody in the same pot, but I just think girls are so amazing in those roles. I just think we need to open up more opportunities to get more photographers and get more editors.
“So many girls aren’t comfortable as riders, I think it’s a mental aspect, so many girls are scared but they love the sport so much. To me I’m just like: ‘well pick up a camera or start editing.’ It’s an art form, it’s a pure art form. Photography speaks to me so beautifully. Filming, everything, it’s just pure art. Look at Romance, look at the trailer, look at the poster for it. That’s f*cking art man. There are so many ways that you can be involved in our sport –men and women—but behind the scenes, you don’t have to be in front of the camera all the time. I’d love to see more girls getting involved in that regard. For us, we wanted to have a big focus on street, because I feel that’s a very underrepresented aspect.”
Is equality, or lack thereof, still a big issue in freeskiing?
L: That’s such a multi-faceted conversation to have, and I don’t think we’ll truly accomplish anything right now. I do want to say that, as somebody who’s incredibly passionate about ski media, I have literally cried myself to sleep after watching edits or various film projects, because I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I love skiing, and I think it can have that effect on anybody. I think that skiing is a happy sport, it is something that you have to really care about in order to be involved, especially with the core-community of it, and that passion isn’t limited to gender at all.
I think that when it comes to pay, representation, equality, or however you want to put it, it’s such a can of worms. Maddie and Steve Stepp did a really good Instagram live about it a while ago after that Sierra post came out.
M: My answer, when it comes to equality, would be: If people go into our film, expecting a Level 1 film, they’re going to be disappointed (it sucks that we dropped our trailer like two days after theirs!) but they’ve been doing it for twenty years. If their project is not 20 times better than ours then there’d be something wrong. But how f*cked is it that we’re 20 years behind? I just think opportunity breeds quality. You can’t learn to ride a bike if you don’t have a bike! If you give us opportunities to go and film, that’s how you help progress the sport.
It was upsetting to me that 3 major ski film trailers dropped this week (author’s note: this interview took place a couple of weeks ago), and as Henrik Lampert pointed out, the male to female ratio was 57:4. And that goes down to zero if you eliminate one of those. It’s crazy because if you go back to the beginning of freeskiing, Marie Martinod and Sarah Burke were absolutely killing it, they were keeping up with the boys and they were invited along. What changed?
If you don’t give us opportunities, then there’s going to be a bunch of boys that watch high-level movies and think that girls aren’t good enough to be in them. There's such a contradiction when guys talk about women's skiing. They love to say that 'women aren't as strong/talented, blah, blah, blah' but then in the same breath complain that 'women aren't doing the same tricks/their tricks aren't good enough'. Don't tell us we're not the same and then expect us to do the same things. You shouldn’t appreciate women’s skiing by comparing it to men’s skiing, because they’re not the same thing. We don’t have the bag of tricks and we do not have the strength or endurance to do what those boys are doing.
To me, we’re kind of forced to have lower-quality footage because we don’t get the opportunities to put out that kind of content. I feel like we’re on a precipice though: watching XGames Big Air this year was amazing. All the girls doing dubs. You can see there’s progression going, the girls are in the street. With Level 1 this year, it sucks because they would have had a girl crushing it, but Gio got hurt at Superunknown. When we put this project together I found so many people jumping at the opportunity to back it, because they want to see this kind of thing represented.
There are just so many different facets to the question and I think that the only stuff that’s particularly relevant —for me— in our project is: It’s not a male ski-movie, it’s a female one. I just hope that people are excited for that to exist.
Laura sniping shots. Photo: Maddie Jones
Your focus was mostly on street, was that a conscious choice?
L: We were there for a month and only got five days of skiing pow, and that’s still half the movie. We didn’t have the conditions to go and build a backcountry jump for jump parts or have huge cliff drops, because everything was buried. Conditions play a role, and I’m worried in that sense that people will think we didn’t make the effort, but we just couldn’t with what we had.
M: “Plenty of girls are killing it in the backcountry and there have been a couple all-girl productions there. Tatum Monod, Angel Collinson, Elyse Saugstad, among others, have all been filming in the backcountry, so there’s a stronger presence there. But street isn’t really represented, so I felt we had to focus on that. Look at girls snowboarding, they had a girl invited to Real Snow this year. Their all-girl street-crews are just so much more active and there’s so much more going on in the media than in freestyle skiing.
Will this be a series/annual thing?
L: I want to keep creating and I want to keep creating things around women. Jyosei has been my first time putting a whole project together. It’s not like I was making edits in the park and putting them out on NS or starting grassroots like most logical filmers would.
I’m super stoked on Jyosei and it’s definitely going to accomplish what we set out to do, which was to inspire people, and women/girls specifically, but I think that I’m totally capable of creating something that’s at a level that I would think ‘this is the best I can do’. Jyosei —being my first project—isn’t quite there for me. That’s not to say that I don’t love it and it’s not my baby.
M: I think it’s just that Laura has a very strong vision, she knows exactly what she wants things to look like. A project like this: she had to go do it in a month and know she’s looking at it six months down the track and is like: ‘nothing can be done about it.’ Which is a very frustrating thing, and she’s doing the whole thing herself: all the animations, all of the editing, it’s all on Laura, that makes the vision so strong. She seeks people out to bounce ideas around because she sits there in a dark room in a hoodie and on the computer at all hours of the f*cking morning.
In the best way, I think Laura’s quite a perfectionist, she’s one of those people who knows her brand I can pick an Obermeyer photo from a mile away because she knows exactly what she wants to accomplish. Being in different countries is really hard for me because I wish I could help her out a little bit more, practically. I think if we did it again, which we really want to, I think it would be quite different.
Do you already have a vision for the next movie?
L: Yeah, I’ve got a list of ideas for films, not just this genre of female-specific stuff. There’s just so much stuff that I want to make. I’ve also waited a long time to really start filming, just because I know what I want and if I know I won’t accomplish it one year, with the equipment that I have or with my resources then I don’t do it, I wait until I do have those resources.
M: She’s also 20! Just gonna throw that in there. She’s one of the youngest filmmakers in the ski industry, especially making a movie of this scale, and she’s a girl.
L: But I do have a really strong idea of what I want to do, immediately following JYOSEI. Now I feel like I’ve taken this step, but I feel like I need to prove that I’m capable of more. I just want to do bigger and better.
M: I can’t imagine a day where Laura doesn’t say that though! Which is a great thing about her.
We got a bit sidetracked talking about the future, but ultimately we were there to talk about the film. Maddie wanted to end with an important message:
“We made JYOSEI for her, him, but mostly for you!”
The movie drops online in the fall, but in the meantime, check @jyosei.film for more about the movie and for Northern Hemisphere premiere info. We can’t wait to see it.