Since the debut of the “We Are The Faction Collective” series nearly a decade ago, the collaboration between filmmaker Etienne Mérel and Faction has come to define the company’s singular approach to ski moviemaking. That grand old tradition continues this year with Faction and Merel’s fourth full-length film together, Abstract.
When I think about Faction and ski movies, I think mostly about three things. One: More than almost any other ski company, Faction has relied on its stellar athlete team to market its skis. The team has always been at center stage. Two: That stage has been provided by the company’s focus on in-house filmmaking. Rather than paying to place its athletes in other big-name ski movies, Faction has chosen instead to produce its those movies by itself. Three: Those movies have been almost entirely filmed, edited and directed by Etienne Mérel. More than any other person, Etienne’s touch has shaped Faction’s video presence over the past decade.
Etienne on location in Japan with the crew. Photo: Toshi Pander
Faction and Etienne’s first big splash came with the “We Are The Faction Collective” series (2014-2016). That success was followed by their first full movie, This Is Home, in 2017. Since then, they’ve alternated years between episode-based projects and movies, with full projects coming every two years (The Collective in 2019, Roots in 2021) and episodic content filling the gaps. This brings us to 2023 and Abstract.
By now we have learned what to expect from Faction and Etienne. In a nutshell, that’s top-notch, few-frills filmmaking that captures all the action that this insanely talented team can generate (spoiler alert: that’s a lot of action) and packs it into location-based segments, all wrapped up in one slickly produced package.
The theme of Abstract is all about answering one simple question: Is skiing art?
Abstract does not veer from this tried-and-true formula. The movie kicks off with a Japan segment, which comes as no big surprise. The country just reopened to foreign travelers last year, so seemingly every ski film crew in existence paid a visit. The difference, however, is that while others were busy skiing Japanese powder, the Faction squad—composed of Alex Hall, Mac Forehand, Antti Ollila and local rider Koga Hoshino—was busy hitting street spots. The dream team of A-Hall, Mac and Antti throw down as expected, with some huge stomps from Mac and A-Hall sending up rail wizardry worthy of Will Wesson's respect. However, the spotlight is stolen by Koga, who apparently knows no fear—as demonstrated by multiple rewind-worthy sends and the segment’s closing shot.
Crazy tricks like this nose tap rodeo from Koga Hoshino set the pace for Abstract´s opening segment. Photo: Oskar Hall
Next up, a feel-good Canadian pillow and pow segment with a diverse crew: Micah Evangelista, Brooklyn Bell, Sophia Rouches and Vasu Sojitra. While the others come with some heat, the show is undoubtedly stolen by Vasu, who skis better on one leg than most people do on two.
The Canadian segment is followed up by the time-honored women’s park segment—this season in residence at Crans-Montana, Switzerland. Unfortunately the shoot endured a week straight of rain, so the level of skiing isn’t as high as we’ve enjoyed in previous films. Nevertheless, Giulia Tanno, Sarah Hoefflin and Mathilde Gremaud worked hard to make the most of it.
Giulia Tanno putting in work in the Crans-Montana snowpark. Photo: Mark Clinton
Brooklyn Bell bags a pristine pillow line. Photo: Erin Hogue
The film pivots back to North America for the USA segment, a booters-and-lines bonanza starring Tim McChesney, Blake Wilson, Mac Forehand and a solid cameo from the always watchable Duncan Adams. These seasoned backcountry operators dish out more than their fair share of memorable stomps, but it’s young-gun Mac Forehand who really stands out—most notably with an unforgettably massive rodeo 7 blunt bigger than anyone has any business stomping. Fans of classic BC sends will not go home disappointed.
Watching Duncan Adams ski will never get old. Photo: Kyle Lieberman
Abstract wraps up with the annual team park shoot, which might be the thing that Faction does best: bringing a deeply talented squad into the park and letting them run rampant. This year’s venue is the relatively unknown Ursus Snowpark at Madonna di Campiglio in Italy, and this year’s chief miscreants are Mac Forehand, Matej Svancer, Antti Ollila and Tormod Frostad. Matej delivers enough butter and pretzels to feed half of Bavaria, while Mac makes a strong case for the movie’s all-around top performer in his third segment appearance. A crowd of new faces fills out the segment, with a strong cameo from Italian young gun Gianni Biello, plus some interesting new team additions like Stepan “Speedy” Hudecek, Canadian up-and-comer Dylan Deschamps and noted Finnish innovator Elias Syrjä.
Dylan Deschamps throws down on a sunset booter session at Ursus snowpark. Photo: Mark Clinton
I’ll give you the positive take first. Abstract is all that we’ve come to expect from Faction: fantastic skiing and top-notch filmmaking, wrapped up in a squeaky-clean package. The cast is the most inclusive it’s ever been, with Faction going beyond its well-established focus on including women to add disabled skiers and people of color. The film’s settings are also diverse, and it’s great to see new faces like Vasu Sojitra, Koga Hoshino and Elias Syrjä making an impact.
Now for the shade. The thematic concept of Abstract is a nice idea, with one burning question driving the narrative: Is skiing art? As most watchers will already know, the answer is clearly, “Yes, it is.” Unfortunately for us, it takes the narrator nearly the entire movie and several excruciating minutes of much-ado-about-nothing voiceovers to reach the same conclusion. The habitual ski-movie fan should already be inured to unnecessary narration and voiceovers, but this is a particularly egregious case of overreach. It’s always nice to have a leitmotif—but please, tone it down on the BBC Philosophy Hour and let us watch some sick skiing.
Is skiing art? Daniel Hanka has a clear answer. Photo: Mark Clinton
Among its peers, Faction has always stood out at showcasing skiing in all its aspects, from street skiing to big-mountain charging. This year’s movie features a very noticeable lack of a big-line, big-mountain segment. The jaw-dropping, hair-raising descents from riders like Sam Anthamatten and Elisabeth Gerritzen are nowhere to be found—a lack so glaring that it makes me wonder if there wasn’t a planned segment that had to be canceled.
Over four movies and seven years, Faction has delivered us with consistently enjoyable ski filmmaking. Abstract is more of the same. If there’s a critique to be found here, it’s that this consistency is starting to feel at risk of becoming formulaic. Yes, there are new locations, new standout stars and more inclusion than ever before. But, with a few notable exceptions, Abstract seems less likely to shock and awe its viewers than other movies might. The skiing, the music, the location-based segments: Everything is as expected. And that’s not always a good thing, even when the "expected" is at a very high level.
As Faction continues its time-honored filmmaking tradition, it might be worth taking a moment to consider how to shake things up a bit in the future. Of course, it’s not easy to reinvent the wheel. Great skiing filmed well should always be at the center of any ski movie endeavor. But maybe some punk rock to shake us out of our seats, or a throwback to athlete-focused segments, just because, or some creative editing that breaks a few rules? While the faces and the skiing in Abstract definitely provide some much-needed newness, the filmmaking formula could use a bit of a refresh, too.