Everyone in the theatre at the IF3 awards, not least myself, was surprised to hear Level 1 - Small World announced as ‘Movie Of The Year’. Nobody had seen enough of the films to compare but what we did know was that it hadn’t got many nominations in any of the other categories, while Legs Of Steel, JF Houle and Superproof had been raking in awards. Then boom, the hammer dropped, it had won the big one.
At the time I hadn't seen the film but had come across numerous social media comments suggesting 'Level 1 has fallen off’ and that 'the film disappointed with a lack of urban'. And to a degree I can see why it has its critics. If you go in with the mindset that every Level 1 film has to be a pastiche of the last, a certain group of riders doing certain things just in a different order each year, then you may indeed be disappointed. But I feel like for the last few years Level 1 got stuck in their ways. Yet at the same time ‘stars’ dropped out of each movie and somehow things started to feel fragmented. Diverse filming styles and riding styles meant more recent films started to feel like a collection of edits rather than full movies. Don’t get me wrong, every single film has had insane segments which I’ve watched over and over all year, but as part of a whole, things didn’t quite gel.
Sami O Killed It
Which brings me to my point, Small World is the best Level 1 film since Eye Trip (maybe even since Refresh) and a deserving winner of movie of the year. It tells the story of a season without the need to fall back on narration like so many ski movies do. The vast majority of the segments slot in to place perfectly and the soundtrack featuring two songs by Cosmo Sheldrake, a friend of mine from highschool and one of the most talented musicians out there, is perfect. Where recent Level 1 films failed to gel as whole feature lengths, Small World flows from start to finish.
This is partly achieved through the location by location format, allowing the viewer a feel for each trip rather simply slotting together shots from all over the world together by rider. This also captures the good vibes and interaction among the crew, highlighting that this new Level 1 rider lineup is coming together as a new generation, not just a haphazard gathering of individuals. There are also less filmers and less riders involved in the core of the film, which means it all feels a bit more cohesive. And that’s the key for me, where things have felt disjointed in recent years, in Small World they click.
That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions or grounds for criticism. Both the Tatum Monod section, and the 4Frnt segment, while great in themselves, don’t particularly fit the theme. The riding is fantastic, Tatum slays and it’s always a treat to see Hoji footage, but I think the film would actually be stronger without them. Partly because they seem out of place and partly because as a whole, the film is a little long.
There’s also been a fair bit of criticism of the skiing on NS and other social media, largely complaints of not enough urban, not enough bangers. But for me the riding in this is standout. Perhaps the bangers are less easy to find, because they aren’t necessarily at the end of each rider’s segments, but they’re there. Sami Ortlieb and Mitchell Brower were both nominated for the breakthrough performance at IF3 and in my opinion Sami should have taken the win, with Mitchell a very close second. They were probably the standouts of the whole film, and both deserve a starring role in the industry, but everyone else killed it too.
Mitchell Brower with possibly my favourite shot of the film
At the end of the day, the thing that matters the most is that it really really made me want to go skiing. There is a degree of relatability involved in much of the film that I think is so important to keeping me interested. Though I could do next to none of the tricks, I could go out and ski at the majority of spots featured in the film without dying. Combining top drawer skiing and filming into something that makes you want to ski, is a difficult trick to pull off. For example, as impressive as they are, I don’t watch Stept skiing urban or Sean Pettit throwing cork 7s on huge spine walls and think ‘that looks fun, I’m stoked to go ski now’. But I watched Small World and most of the time I thought ‘I’d kill to be right there, right now’. And to me that’s what ski movies are for: fueling the imagination and stoke until winter comes round all over again, something Small World does with aplomb.
If you haven't seen the movie, get it now on Vimeo On Demand. If you have and disagree, let's hear why in the comments!