San Sebastian Film Festival: Savage Cinema

San Sebastian’s Savage Cinema sidebar — now in its second edition — underscores the growing ambitions of the action sports movie sector and its ever-broader audiences.

Over the past 20 years, extreme sports’ popularity has grown, boosted by the ubiquity of clips on YouTube, and TV networks, such as ESPN, which created the X Games, a kind of alternative to the Olympics that features skateboarding, BMX and surfing as well as more extreme sports.

The 2013 Savage Cinema edition, a partnership between San Sebastian and Red Bull Media House (RBMH), a major sponsor of extreme sports events, showed that there was a theatrical audience out there for movies about extreme sports, selling 85% of all available tickets, with closing pics “Into the Mind” and “Cerro Torre” surpassing 95%, per festival figures.

The production values of action sports films rival any from major Hollywood studios. Teton Gravity’s “Higher” was filmed with the GSS C520 aerial camera gimbal, “a million-dollar system on par with any aerial system being used in feature films,” says Todd Jones co-founder of Wyoming-based production shingle Teton Gravity Research. Film is having its European premiere at Savage Cinema.

Compared to more conventional films, these films also benefit from a financing advantage. “Action sport films allow a different financing because the brands are highly (involved) in them,” says Emma Lepers at Paris-based outfit Petit Dragon, producer of Philippe Petit’s “Danger Dave,” a skateboarding movie powerfully supported by clothing company Carhartt.

Branding represents a crucial factor for the sector. Aimed at promoting its energy drink and high-action brand image, RBMH is ambitiously committed to the extreme sports movies industry.

This year, Savage Cinema features two RBMH-produced titles: the world premiere of Dana Brown’s “On Any Sunday — The Next Chapter,” a sequel to Bruce Brown’s seminal 1972 dirt-bike doc “On Any Sunday,” and the European premiere of ski pic “Days of My Youth.”

“There have been vast improvements over the last few years in the way that this type of film is presented to audiences. The key challenge will be to continue to hone our storytelling skills while staying true to the cause,” says Philipp Manderla, RBMH head of cinema.

“What we need is not only spectacular images but also really good stories,” Lepers adds.

Worldwide theatrical releases is the next frontier.

“We’ve seen examples of supposed niche films exceeding their intended audiences and commercial potential, eventually becoming a full-grown player in the theatrical industry. On a similar level, I am convinced that action sports genre films hold massive potential that hasn’t even been tapped yet,” Manderla says.

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