Wish I Could Do That 

Ninth annual Sawtooth Film Festival hits Boise State

Teaching outdoor skills is all well and good, but there's nothing quite like sitting in a room full of athletically minded individuals—their blood pumping from watching crazy feats performed by killer athletes. You can taste the adrenaline. You might also drown in the bad voice-overs.

So, outdoor hounds, step inside, briefly: On March 7 and 8, the Outdoor Program and Campus Recreation at Boise State will present the ninth annual Sawtooth Mountain Film Festival, a montage of locally and internationally produced films showcasing the amazing feats of athletes, some of whom are the best in their sport. The films are a study in variety, and include everything from three-minute short films to hour-long beauties complete with soundtrack.

The two-day event features eight films on Friday and 10 on Saturday, and is a promotion for the Outdoor Program while displaying the natural good looks of the Idaho outdoors. It also benefits the Student Outdoor Leadership Development Program. These student leaders collectively teach about 150 educational- or technical-skill programs each year.

The films highlight a wide variety of sports, including kayaking, snowboarding, skiing, ice climbing, rock climbing, skating and telemark skiing.

There are several gems on the itinerary that serve up athleticism along with great cinematography and scenery. In particular, The Wind Surf Movie by John Desesare and Jace Panebianco stands out among the great sport films. Shot over three years in 16mm, it is exactly what the filmmakers claim: "A high-definition visual odyssey."

The opening shot is of a lone wind surfer crossing the white-crested ocean to the strains of Nina Simone's "Feline Woman." The surfer then takes flight in unison to a musical pause. Within minutes, the filmmakers have set a standard of the marriage between art and sport, which they maintain throughout the film. The film tracks the history of windsurfing from the perspective of the sport's veterans, as well as the promise of new talent. The kid windsurfing phenom, Kai Lenny, deservedly, gets his own musical montage.

Of course, while the skills are hot, the actual films may not always be as fabulous as the talent on the reel. Making movies, after all, is not cheap. But it doesn't take much more than a video camera to capture footage of some of the most insane exploits an athlete can conceive.

One such example is captured in the short Yellow Boat, White Water by filmmaker Andrew Hardingham. In the film, Logan Grayling takes a lengthy vertical drop in his kayak at Johnson Falls in Banff National Park.

The film itself is raw. Nothing fancy. No music, no amazing cinematography, nothing to get too worked up about ... until you realize that Grayling intends to squeeze his boat and body through a two-foot cliff chute and into a 100-foot drop to the pool below. The flick probably doesn't need a viewer's disclaimer, but let's just say that there will be blood.

Most of the films feature some high-falutin' talk about the Zen of extreme athleticism. Hardingham's film opens with a voice-over narrative stating, "Everyone has a choice. They can stay back and follow, or they can lead and start a new progression of their sport." Deep.

Pushing the envelope in a sport has killed many an athlete, but it sometimes leads to a new pastime. Life on a Line, a film by Jutta Reichardt, is a short film that brings to light the evolution of slacklining as a sport.

Shawn Snyder, one of the pioneers of slacklining, is featured talking about the meditative quality of the sport and the progression it has seen through the years. This includes the relatively new extreme of walking across a length of webbing tied several hundred feet (or more) above ground.

Thankfully, the film is only three minutes long. Otherwise, Snyder's droning about the meditative qualities of walking a slackline could be exhausting. Snyder demonstrates that sometimes it's better to show the athletes performing their feats, rather than talking about them.

"I have an amazing, amazing time when there's a bunch of people together slacklining. It's an awesome, awesome thing. Great, great, amazing things happen during those times," says Snyder. "You started something because it was rad, and other people wanted a part of your radness." Don't we all?

The skate film Sink or Swim by Ethan Chancer taps into all of the self-emasculating nastiness of young skaters, unafraid of shattering their bodies to accomplish amazing skate tricks. Although it's sort of voyeuristically interesting to see someone rack themselves on a metal railing, it is still more athletically engaging to see them land the trick.

Quick little flips of the board onto railings, slabs, stairs and over concrete tree planters are showcased, along with stunning urban cinematography. Skating is a sport that thrives in the urban setting; all the better to highlight the raw nature of the sport itself. The film will make you wonder about the sheer physics of skating. How do they keep that board on their feet? Which, come to think of it, could be a theme for the entire film festival.

March 7 and 8, 7:30 p.m., $6 advance, $8 door. Outdoor Program and the Student Programs Board will also offer a Rail Jam, March 8 from 1-8 p.m. Admission is free. Five semi trucks will dump snow on the Recreation Field by the Student Union Building for the rail riding competition.

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