It’s crazy to think that it’s been thirteen years now that the HIGH FIVE FESTIVAL has been attracting the who’s who of the international freeski scene to the picturesque town of Annecy, France.
And yet here we are in the year 2023, and Year 13 of High Five was anything but unlucky. Quite the opposite, in fact. The sun was shining all weekend, erasing all memory of last year’s mudfest, and a stellar line-up of the new crop of ski movies appeased snow-hungry eyeballs throughout eleven exhausting film sessions in Annecy’s Cinema Pathé.
Let's go! The crowd pours into the outdoor festival grounds on opening day. Photo: Gontard
As we noted last year, High Five has grown into much more than “just” a ski movie film festival over the years. The brand village has steadily expanded to take over much of Annecy’s waterfront park, providing a new hub of activity and action. And a concert stage and lineup of nationally known French rappers and musicians has brought in a new target market of youngsters who might or might not know who Tanner Hall or Henrik Harlaut are.
From skate contests to climbing walls to trampolines to drone courses to bag jumps to dryslopes — High Five truly has something for everyone. Photo: Gontard
Even so, the ski movies are still the beating heart of High Five, and along with thousands of others, I imbibed more than my fair share over the weekend. We watched good movies and bad ones; amateur efforts and professional polishes; flimsy narrative concepts and of course, loads upon loads of right proper ski action. Here’s a few takeaways from this year’s ski film roster.
A packed house takes in Taylor Lundquist's "Hai, my name is..." Photo: Ethan Stone
1. Mirrored shots are in this year. If you’ve got some uninspiring B-roll footage, just flip it once horizontally and let the good times roll. For bonus points, flip it all once again vertically, and you’ve got a four-image mirrored grid that magically turns mediocrity into beauty. It’s called art, okay?
2. Clichéd voiceovers and insipid narration are making a comeback. I understand the drive to lend some narrative structure to what is otherwise a half hour of people sliding around on snow. But that is exactly what we are all here to see: People sliding around snow. Not a meandering monologue on the nature of art (I’m looking at you, Faction.)
3. This year we saw the first glimpses of AI-generated art in ski movies. This is surely a harbinger of things to come. In 20 years, probably nobody will be skiing in these movies anyway; it’ll just be digital duplicates of athletes hucking their AI-generated meat. At least nobody will have to risk life and limb anymore for our entertainment.
4. On a very positive note, drone filming has finally matured. It wasn’t so long ago that race drones were competing to see how many times they could circle an athlete mid-air, making for dizzying shots that were impressive mostly in their ability to induce nausea. Now that the initial fever around the new technology has worn off, drone pilots are producing some seriously amazing work that shows mountains, and the riders riding them, from completely new perspectives (see: The Land of Giants from Matchstick Productions” and Sensus from The Bunch). In fact, drone filming has gotten so good that it seems like you don’t even need a camera on a tripod anymore. Just mix the drone angle with some POV footage and you’ve got yourself a movie.
The crowd settles in for another long movie session. Photo: Gontard
Nitpicking aside, there’s a lot of great flicks headed your way on the Interwebz this fall. After a painstaking four years in the making, Level 1 Productions’ Josh Berman has finally released his documentary with sit-skier Trevor Kennison, Full Circle. I sadly missed this showing, but given that the film won “Best Movie”—plus the fact that anything Josh Berman works on for four years is bound to be good—this might be the don’t-miss ski film of the year.
In the short-film category, The Bunch wowed with an evolutionary dream-state concept film from director Jens Nilsson, Sensus, featuring some mind-altering night drone work and of course, the swerve-alicious styles of Mr. Magnus Granér and the gang. “Apollo” by CK9 Studios is a great showcase of the skills of Sam Kuch, even if the astronaut comparison is a bit over the top. And speaking of showcases, the one and only Tanner Hall puts on a master class in yet another personal project, “XL.” The man simply won’t stop. Keep your eyes peeled for that one hitting YouTube on October 26, T’s 40th birthday.
Tanner introduces his new short movie "XL." That's 40 in Roman numerals—the age Tanner will turn this month. Photo: Stone
“Best Short Movie” went to Clustr Films’ “The Draconians,” a documentation of Sam Favret’s visit to Norway to ski with Nikolai Schirmer. If you know anything about these two skiers, then you already know you are in for a wild ride. And the Prix du Jury, the Jury’s Special Prize went to “Descendance” by the Legs of Steel, a painstaking and perspective-changing exploration of Dennis Ranalter’s life as a Black skier finding his way in predominantly white spaces.
For good-old fashioned shred action, you won’t want to miss Faction’s fourth full-length film, Abstract, starring Alex Hall, Antti Ollila, Mac Forehand and the rest doing what they do best. Here, Hold my Kid is an unexpectedly entertaining look at two pro-skiers turned moms, Jackie Paaso and Elyse Saugstad. Street skiing aficionados will appreciate “Forre Movie 2,” “ON3P 6” and “Brushino.” And last but not least, longtime Freeride World Tour photographer Dom Daher’s documentary What the FWT? is a magnum opus and a must-see for any fan of competitive freeride—even if you don’t see things the way he does.
Nobody knows how to light up a stage quite like Henrik Harlaut—accompanied by Noah Albaladejo to present "Brushino." Photo: Stone
Let’s turn now to a perennial question: MSP or TGR? Well, this year’s Matchstick movie The Land of Giants features some game-changing drone work, amazing skiing from the likes of Sammy Carlson and Colby Stevenson, and all the glorious heli-accessed big-mountain savagery you can shake a stick at. However, there’s nary a jump shot—or even a shoveled takeoff!—to be found. On the flip side, Teton Gravity’s Legend Has It also stars Colby Stevenson (the man gets around!) as well as an absolute hero segment from grom-no-more Kai Jones. Overall, the TGR flick seems a bit more diverse, with nice park and booter segments, so they get my hat tip in this year’s marquee face-off.
Long story short, there’s a lot of great movies out this year and its impossible to list them all—I’ve already forgotten gems like “Realis” from Baptiste Sjöstrom and Max Palm and the heavy-hitting “Crescendo” from Good Company. I guess you’ll just have to keep checking back here at Downdays on a daily basis throughout the fall to catch all of the drip as it falls.
A lot’s changed in thirteen years at High Five, and a lot hasn’t. The MCing is still almost exclusively in French, as is the event website, which undercuts High Five’s strong claim as the world’s biggest international ski film festival. And it’s still next to impossible to get into the party at Pop Plage even when you’ve got a VIP wristband. But thankfully, this hasn’t changed either: High Five remains the best place on the planet for celebrating and indulging in the art of ski filmmaking.
The 2023 High Five Awards conveniently double as your new skate deck. Photo: Germain Favre Felix
Golden High: The 2023 High Five Festival Awards
What’s a film festival without an awards ceremony? This year the ceremony was moved to a more fitting time, on Sunday after all the movies had played.
Honor Award: Kevin Rolland
The night’s special honor went to halfpipe legend Kevin Rolland, who retired last season after an incredible 17-year competitive career. A large group of French freeski insiders, from Kevin’s longtime coach Greg Guenet to his cousin Tess Ledeux to OG freeskier Julien Regnier, crowded the stage to pay their respects to Kevin, and a well-made tribute clip even jerked a few tears out of the normally reticent Frenchman.
You couldn't pick a better recipient for the honor award than Kevin Rolland. Photo: Klaus Polzer
Prix Du Jury / Jury’s Special Prize: “Descendance,” Legs of Steel
The jury’s prize went to a very special project by Innsbruck-based Legs of Steel about freeskier Dennis Ranalter. Dennis has been a known-but-unknown quantity in the freeski scene for years, and this heartfelt and deeply personal project finally lays bare his experience as a Black man growing up in a small Austrian town where the mindsets are narrow and the racism is casual. “Descendance” goes far beyond a superficial look at race and instead delves deep into Dennis’ life, becoming a personal journey of becoming somewhere along the way.
Dennis Ranalter accepts the Prix du Jury for "Descendance." Photo: Polzer
Alpina Public Choice Award: “Realis,” Baptiste Sjöstrom
Baptiste Sjöstrom’s intimate portrait of his friend Max Palm is one of this year’s surprise hits, as well as one of the more visually impressive projects we saw at High Five. Follow Max through triumph and heartbreak on his mission to win the Freeride World Tour. Those shots with the rose petals? Chef’s kiss.
Baptiste Sjöstrom and Max Palm accept the People's Choice award for "Realis." Photo: Polzer
Best Eco-friendly movie: “Projection,” Richard Buchner
Imagining a future without ski resorts, this Innsbruck-based crew chose to visit a number of abandoned ski areas throughout the winter, using human power to ski these formerly bustling, now lonely slopes.
Best Female Rider: Ylfa Rúnarsdottír
The women’s prize went to snowboarder Ylfa, whose impressive showing in the Burton Snowboards movie “Blooom” had the jury agog.
Best male rider: Colby Stevenson
Between the X Games and the World Cup circuit, Colby somehow found the time to film with not one, not two, but three major productions. His all-star showings with Matchstick Productions, Teton Gravity and Good Company helped usher him onto the stage to accept the award for Best Male Rider.
Best male rider: Colby Stevenson. Don't doubt it. Photo: Polzer
Best Snowboard Movie: “Get Buck,” Willem Jones
Sebbe de Buck is one of the best people in snowboarding, so it’s only fair that his personal project with his friend Willem Jones is one of the best movies in snowboarding.
Best Outdoor movie: “Nuptse,” L’endroit Films
The award for Best Outdoor Movie (that is, not focused on skiing or snowboarding) went to this dramatic tale of three French alpinists attempting to open up a new route on the south face of 7861-meter Nuptse in the Himalayas.
No doubt about it: Hellias Millerioux has the best haircut in the game. Photo: Polzer
Best Short Movie: “The Draconians,” Clustr Films
When two prodigious skiing talents like Sam Favret and Nikolai Schirmer join forces to ski Norwegian lines, good things happen.
Sam Favret and Clustr Films take home the nod for Best Short Movie. Photo: Polzer
Best Movie: “Full Circle,” Level 1 Productions
The documentary about sit-skier Trevor Kennison has apparently turned into a major passion project for Level 1 head honcho Josh Berman. Four years in the making, the film found its linchpin when the story of Barry Corbet was added to that of Trevor. If you’ve been longing to see a new Level 1 movie, long no longer.
Trevor Kennison and Josh Berman weren't in attendance, but they sent in a video to accept their award for Best Movie. Photo: Polzer