By Greg I. Hamilton
Steamboat film writer/director inspired by adaptive sports
In January 2010 right here on my home slopes of Steamboat, I saw a blind snowboarder. Facing his instructor, arm-in-arm, the two of them looked like dancers waltzing down the mountain. Moments later a paraplegic caught air in the halfpipe, much to his instructor’s chagrin. It was like something out of a dream.
That All Mountain Camp (now in its eighth season hosted by Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports and Adaptive Adventures) was the start of something for me. It provided my first real taste of an evolution I can trace back to at least 1950. In that year, as Warren Miller filmed his second ski movie, his buddies begged him to point the camera their way. They were shocked when he headed, instead, for the rope-tow. What his lens captured that day was a group of blind people learning to ski.
Miller shared that story with me six decades later, between takes in the studio. We were taking a break from recording narration for the film I wrote and co-directed, “The Movement.” Before starting in again, Miller set my script aside and told me about a little girl named Traci Taylor. This nine-year-old March of Dimes poster child had traded her crutches for outriggers, learned to ski...and stole the show in Miller’s 1985 film, “Steep and Deep.” I knew it well: it was the first ski flick I ever attended.
Taylor had been my film’s first casting call and revisiting her story there with the godfather of ski films was a powerful moment. Listen carefully to Miller’s voice in “The Movement” and you can hear tears welling up when he says, “People ask me who was the best skier I’ve ever filmed and I’ve told them: Traci Taylor.”
Joining Taylor in the film are the most decorated male Paralympic skier ever, Chris Waddell; his mentor, Jim Martinson; and world-record holder for blind speed skiing, Mike May. This ensemble of sports heroes provides advice and encouragement to Rick Finkelstein, the central character in the film.
Paralyzed in a ski accident in 2004 Finkelstein was considering a return to the very mountain where he’d been hurt. He even hoped he might learn to monoski (or “sit-ski”). As soon as he agreed to let us film this attempt, we lined up ace instructors and the latest equipment, but he would still face a monumental ordeal of body, mind, and ego.
“I don’t want to make a complete fool of myself – and that’s a distinct possibility,” Finkelstein told me, just 16 days before filming. “I was a good skier and I haven’t done anything for seven years now. I’ve been through cancer and paraplegia; I’ve got a lot of pain still. And I’m 61. So I have a few things working against me.”
Why bother? He just wanted a little bit of what Miller’s cameras have sought to capture for 63 years: a feeling of freedom. In making “The Movement,” I, too, tried to capture that sense of exhilaration and empowerment. Ultimately, I hoped to share those dream-like visions I had witnessed at Steamboat’s All Mountain Camp.
I’m happy to report that the film has been well-received. It has taken me so much further than I ever dreamed: a premiere at Sundance plus 20 other festivals, five awards and eligibility for an Oscar® in 2013. It’s all mind-blowing and I’m completely humbled: not unlike the sensation I felt seeing a blind snowboarder and an airborne monoskier.
View The Movement on all Frontier Airlines airbus flights throughout November – or visit MakeAHero.org to learn more. Find and follow Greg I. Hamilton’s writing, including his forthcoming book, at TheMovementBook.org.