What does it take to go that fast?
BEAVER CREEK – Bill Rogers was considering making a film about an interesting family in Franconia, N.H. Here was a family that made a conscious but not necessary decision to live a life free of TV, electricity, plumbing and other “amenities” that are customary in most American households. Instead, Rogers decided to focus on one member of that family. In the seven-year duration of filming, that family member happened to become one of the best ski racers of all time.
Rogers, a documentary filmmaker whose most renowned piece – “My Uncle Joe” – was about his uncle’s life in a hospital for the mentally ill, has known Bode Miller’s family since Miller was a child. “When he was back in grade school people talked about Bode as a competitor,” Rogers said. “One of the first things I shot was a soccer game. He’s a hell of a soccer player. The score was 1-0 and Bode got the goal. That was typical.”Thus, Rogers embarked on “Flying Downhill,” a documentary about Miller that involved 400 hours of camera footage but which was narrowed to an hour and 20 minutes.”What I’m really interested in is individuals and how they relate to their environment,” Rogers said. “It’s the individual against the larger forces. You see how it plays out with Bode and his family. We’re molded by our environments and defined by what we do.”Rogers, along with producer Brad Williams, who joined the project in 2000, incorporated some old 16mm footage from Bode’s family into the movie. The film recounts Miller’s childhood and particular dramatic moments such as how, at age 13, Miller climbed Mt. Washington after his family set out on a spring backcountry hike with their skis. When Miller began the descent, his family watched as he was buried alive in an avalanche.The film was intended to climax at the 2002 Winter Olympics, where Miller won two silver medals, but instead the race footage continues to last year’s World Cup season, when Miller won the overall title.
Although the filmmakers created a 45-minute “skiers’ version” of the movie, “Flying Downhill” is not your standard Warren Miller or Teton Gravity Production.No base-jumping”When people hear about a ski movie, they think it’s guys hucking cliffs in the backcountry with this headbanging music,” Williams said. “What we’ve got here is a movie about a skier. It’s about a kid growing up with the sport who approached it in a different way, a kid who just happens to be a ski racer. It’s about why he does what he does and how he does it. You’re on the edge of your seat, because you never know if he’s going to crash when he’s racing. When he wins, it’s the most incredible thing because of how he does it.” Rogers said they elicited Miller’s feedback after each cut of the film, and he provided them with suggestions about elements such as music and various public appearances he wanted to appear in it.
“He wanted to make sure that the struggle was made clear in the film,” Rogers said. “He was particular about music. He wanted more of a rock edge, although he likes some of the underscore we’re using with cello. The musical score has a really wide range.””Flying Downhill” was a finalist in this year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival, and has only been screened a handful of times since its completion this year.Rogers said that Miller, who audiences can witness racing live through Sunday at the Beaver Creek Birds of Prey World Cup events, will be in attendance at the film’s screening Saturday at the Vilar Center.Since the average film crew of three people followed Miller through Europe filming seven years’ worth of World Cup seasons, TV stations and various programs across the world have become interested in the footage of Miller, especially as it ties with the upcoming 2006 Winter Olympics this February in Italy.While Miller’s success has turned the documentary into something of a biopic, Rogers still feels this is of little consequence to what he aimed to do with “Flying Downhill.”
“The emotional climax of the film is the 2003 World Championships. That’s where Bode really put it all together,” said Rogers. “What the film is looking for is what makes this guy tick. What makes him go fast? To me, the ski race is a metaphor. It’s a combination of momentary inspiration and how we’re balancing the need to live.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado