Premiere Photos: Laura Obermeyer. Premiere words: Matt Kretzschmar.
20 years, 20 groundbreaking movies. The annual release schedule is no longer on the cards for Josh Berman & Level 1 but that doesn't mean the fun has to stop. But I made the trek out to Denver for their world premiere and the ultimate send-off into whatever comes next for the Level 1 crew.
Pro poster signings, gear giveaways galore, Freedle ranting on stage, and a massive amount of drinks were the main draw for pre-movie entertainment. The hype to see this star-studded flick was palpable as I wandered through the crowd to grab my next drink, at the same time Khai Krepela was passing me overhead on his annual crowd surf to the bar.
The movie opens up with three legends of the street game in Tom Wallisch, Phil Casabon, & Mike Hornbeck and some serious nostalgia. "I finally know when to cheer now" Hornbeck exclaims as Wallisch does some characteristically mental urban trickery. Things started to get hazy at this point in the premiere, and I'm thankful that I was at the friends & family premiere the night before to catch the whole flick. Twig has a full review of the movie at the bottom of this piece, so check that out if you want some more teasing.
I probably sound like a broken record saying that this is the sickest Level 1 movie I've seen yet. Perhaps it's the atmosphere at the premiere that makes it that much better... maybe it's that plus the copious amounts of liquor. Regardless of the reason, 'Romance' is coming to more than 100 cities this year with an online release coming in October. If you have the chance to make it to one of their premieres, fucking send it, you will not be disappointed.
The night drew to a close and everyone stumbled their way over to 715 Club for a nightcap and revel in the film they just witnessed. Thank you to the incredible crew at Level 1 over the years; the riders, filmers, family members and fearless leader Josh Berman who made this ski dream possible for 20 years and more to come. We are all excited to see what the next chapter holds for you.
The Review - Twig:
When Romance premiered in Denver this past weekend, I, sadly, was not in attendance. I'm on a self-imposed flight ban and the transatlantic train service is sadly lacking. Thankfully, messers Berman, Coty, Baumann, and co. took pity on me and sent me the screener to watch and report back on to all of you who couldn't make it, can't wait for your own copy to arrive or simply can't remember the night at all. I will, as always, endeavor to keep the real spoilers to a minimum because you should all a) try and make it to a premiere (I will be catching the European Premiere at High 5) and b) buy the movie.
At this point, some things need to be made clear. Being the 'last movie', Romance begets an even greater level of expectation than Level 1 usually suffers from, and that expectation is high, even in a normal year. Only those who were at the theatre in Denver have seen this, and yet there's already a thread complaining the movie is a disappointment. Some people like and miss the narration, some people will crave more nostalgia and history, some just like ski porn. You can't please everyone and it's the latter breed who will be happiest here. Romance is pure skiing from start to finish, in much the same way as Zig Zag but with an even more stacked crew.
That moment when these guys open the movie...
Those in the nostalgia camp also have something to latch on to but a lot of it, you need to look for. There are archival clips in the intro and video postcards from the OGs in the credits, but most importantly, there are several big-name returnees to the crew. The movie opens with a street segment from Hornbeck, Casabon and Wallisch... and they haven't lost a step. Hornbeck may be going grey (sorry Mike!) but his creativity and flow have aged like fine wine. Casabon is, for me, the greatest street skier there has ever been and some of his presses in Romance beggar belief. And then there's Wallisch, for whom frankly, there are not enough adjectives in the world.
Bangers in Bosnia
Ahmet Dadali too is back with a vengeance in a street segment filmed at what appeared to be one abandoned building in Sarajevo, Bosnia. His knees may hate him, but his segment, with a banger cameo from Tom Ritsch, is one of many unique highlights of Romance. Parker White, Chris Logan, Duncan Adams, Will Wesson, Wiley Miller and more also play starring roles, as Level 1 makes plenty of space for its legends alongside the new blood. There are far too many highlights to mention but Will's spot selection and the style of White, Adams and Logan all stand out. One-shot that I feel needs to be singled out is the opener to the shared segment from the latter trio, a follow-cam switch 7 blunt in the pow, filmed so flawlessly my jaw dropped.
The new(er) generation was also given its chance to shine with 'the president', LSM, claiming the starring role in the movie... courtesy of shots in multiple segments and the ender all to himself. Colby Stevenson and Lucas Wachs made their Level 1 debuts with some backcountry stunts that raise the bar higher than anyone could have possibly imagined even 10 years into the studio's history, let alone at the beginning. And there's yet another well-rounded showing from Laurent DeMartin who, as in Zig Zag, dominates both the streets and backcountry with style. Perhaps my favorite rider segment of all came from Keegan Kilbride. He's been somewhat quiet for the past year or so, but he's a man who makes even the sketchiest of street maneuvers look the very definition of style with ease. He's certainly got that special something that makes him stand out even in this sea of talent.
LSM completes his journey to becoming a standout pow skier, taking his unique vision to the fluffy stuff
For me though, the true standout is the stop motion masterpiece from the wild mind of Sämi Ortlieb, also starring Dane Kirk, Rob Heule and Remco Kayser. If you've seen Sämi's own 'Birds' movies then you may have an inkling of what to expect, but things were taken to a whole new level here. For some, who are of the pure ski porn persuasion, it may be too gimicky, but I watch more than enough of that in my day job. Anyone with an experience editing will immediately see how much work must have gone into this mini-movie within the movie and it paid off. There is plenty in Romance as a whole to remind us that skiing can be an art and this segment is perhaps the most blatant example of that.
Criticisms... well you can nitpick just about anything and if I had to come up with something here, it would be that Level 1 had so much footage that the movie is arguably too long, at over an hour. And that Romance has so many different styles included in it that it perhaps detracts from the feel of the movie as a whole. But this might be (though I haven't even begun to figure out if this is actually true), the biggest cast ever assembled for a Level 1 film and it would be impossible to make all those shots from so many different riders and filmers seem perfectly cohesive. Given the circumstance, that this is the last film from probably the most significant film company in freeski history, you can forgive Level 1 for making it a bumper project. In my mind, there are no 'weak segments' and the film does an impressive job of representing the diversity of styles in skiing right now while also nodding to its past.
I have been enjoying, as have so many of you, watching each of the archival Level 1 films each week and listening to the crew discuss what went on behind the scenes in their podcast series. It's been really cool to see the films evolve and there is no higher praise for Romance than that it seems a fitting end to an unbelievable run. In my mind, there is something in here for all tastes, unless for some reason you can only watch a ski movie that's been narrated. There might not be physical videotapes to burn out anymore but I can think of plenty of segments where the tape would be getting worn out from all the rewatches in my house. I want to sign off here by giving a huge shoutout to everyone involved at Level 1, thank you for all the memories and I can't wait to see what comes next.
9-26 Bozeman, MT @Emerson Center
9-28 Salt Lake City, UT @The Complex
9-28 Reno, NV @Moment Skis
10-4 Edmonton, AB @Metro Cinema
10-5 Annecy, France @High Five Festival
10-5 South Lake Tahoe @The Hanger240
10-10 Burlington, VT @UVM
10-12 Glarus, Switzerland @Tunnel
10-17 Montreal, QC @iF3
10-22 Prague, CR @TBA
10-24 Minneapolis, MN @Able Seedhouse
10-24 Whistler, BC @Maury Young Arts Centre
10-26 Los Angeles, CA @The Motoring Club
Plus, 100+ stops all around the globe. Be sure to head to events.level1.ski for more dates & places.