Ski movie or environmental statement?

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Courtesy of Matchstick Productions

There are ski movies and then there are ski movies. Today we’re going to talk about a ski movie, one from a little Colorado company that has, from its inception, shaken up the ski film industry with edgy, youthful productions.

The company is, of course, Matchstick Productions. These Crested Butte-based filmmakers are arguably the most successful ski and snowboard production company in the business with a fistful of awards including nine awards from Powder Magazine (eight movie of the year awards and one for best documentary), three Emmy nominations for outstanding camerawork, viewers’ choice runner-up at Tribeca Film Festival, and countless other honors for editing and cinematography.

In addition, the company’s work has been featured across every modern distribution medium, including high-profile appearances on Good Morning America, 60 Minutes and other mainstream TV programs. They also boast an extensive client list that includes production assignments for global brands like Red Bull, Subaru, Swatch, Bud Light and American Express.

That’s not a bad resume for Steve Winter and Murray Wais, the two guys who founded Matchstick Productions (MSP), producing the low-budget and genre-busting releases Soul Sessions and Epic Impressions and The Hedonist in 1993 and 1994 respectively.

michelle-parker-and-eric-hjorleifsonCourtesy of Matchstick Productions
A still from “Ruin and Rose”

Now over 20 years old, MSP marches into Boulder on Thursday, Sept. 29 with their latest release, Ruin and Rose. The production budget is obviously a far cry from their first efforts, but there’s no doubt that the latest release shares the same passion, attention to detail and phenomenal skiing that the brand has become renowned for. But this film is more than in-your-face action, and that’s what might make it one of the most important “ski” films in recent memory.

For this most recent effort, Wais and Winter partnered with writer/director Ben Sturgulewski to produce what can only be described as a revelation when it comes to action sports films. Winter landscapes across the planet contrast seamlessly with a curated story of environmental apocalypse, made even more poignant by the recent depressing news of global warming and the rapidly heating planet. These images are a departure for the filmmakers and were shot entirely within the incredible expanses of Africa’s Skeleton Coast, capturing the dreamlike setting and juxtaposing it with the action sequences of skiing snow-covered mountains. It’s a jarring and thought-provoking contrast.

“It’s a big departure for MSP,” Wais admits. “A lot of the films we have made are banger after banger ski action. This is more thought provoking and touches upon what our planet will be like with no snow. It’s scary and sad and hopefully makes people think about that.

“Matchstick has been around 25 years or so,” Wais adds. “We wanted to grow as artists and mix things up, to present something unique. I am pleased with the results. The film is entertaining and inspiring and beautifully shot and hopefully it will appeal to people who aren’t even skiers.”

One of the keys to the new direction, Wais says, was the addition of Ben Sturgulewski. A veteran filmmaker and storyteller who was involved with Sweetgrass Productions, Sturgulewski brought a keen sense of narrative to Ruin and Rose.

“We were looking to bring new talent into the mix,” Wais says. “Ben [Sturgulewski] has been around the pipeline and worked on projects like Valhalla (an award-winning film produce by Sweetgrass Productions). We wanted to really shift the message, and his involvement helps with that. It also allows us to free up some of our talent to dive into new projects.”

Wais says Ruin and Rose is the start of a new direction, while also admitting that a ski film that showcases global warming is unexpected, but timely.

“I think in general it’s been a huge part of my professional career,” Wais says of people’s interest in the environment and the impact that humans have been having on the planet, particularly due to the time he spends in cold and snowy places.

“I’ve been asked two different questions,” Wais says. “‘Is global warming really happening?’ And that question does not get asked any more. It’s been obvious over the last nine years with record high temperatures that it is happening, and those warm temperatures have also shown me that is it very obvious as to what is happening.”

The second question, Wais says, is “What have you seen?”

A still from "Ruin and Rose"Courtesy of Matchstick Productions
A still from “Ruin and Rose”

“People want to know specifics,” he says. “They want a tangible thing that they can latch onto. There’s been a really good movement around the country in regards to recycling, and people get that when they throw away a can that it fills up their garbage and maybe it’s better to put the can in the recycling bin. Global warming isn’t something people can see every day; it’s a slow, intangible thing. Maybe there is less snow in the winter, or maybe there are tons of beetles like what we’ve seen in Colorado. But it happens slowly over time. People don’t see the emissions coming out of their car’s tailpipe, they want me to cite specific examples, but the reality is that in Crested Butte, we are still around average when it comes to snowfall.”

Because of this, Ruin and Rose challenged the athletes, who perhaps weren’t ready for the realities of working on a project that didn’t highlight action, and focused instead on a rather uncomfortable message.

“With the athletes,” Wais says, “there’s a dynamic with professional skiers that if one year you do one trick in a movie, the next year you come back and do a better trick. They really like that, the concept of progression. But where does that end up? You can only do so much, and it gets so dangerous. The athletes appreciated the creative direction of the film, but they also would prefer to have a film that was more about them.”

Ruin and Rose may take risks and break all the rules for a ski film, but in so doing MSP has produced a timely and worthwhile contribution to the climate change conversation.  

On the Bill: Ruin and Rose. 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, Boulder Theater,  2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.