SAN SEBASTIAN Starring ace snowboarder Travis Rice, whose “The Art of Flight” was a milestone in the action sports movie genre, “The Fourth Phase” has an eco-context, the rain-ice-moisture hydrological circle which Rice and a posse of friends follow for 15,000 miles of North Pacific Rim from Japan to Alaska via the Kuril Islands, running big mountain lines. “While keeping everything good from ‘The Art of Flight,’ ‘The Fourth Phase’ clearly steps up the game in terms of storytelling and Travis’ willingness to open up,” commented Philipp Manderla,
“The Art of Flight” was an overall No. 1 iTunes movie in the U.S. That said, “The Fourth Phase” is certainly not jut more of the same. Sure, there are sone extraordinary action sequences, in Wyoming in an early medley, then great runs down 50% slopes from mountain tops in Japan’s Alps, and others swerving and leaping through their deep-snow lower wooded flanks. But then Rice and fellow snowboarders spend a month mooching around in a log cabin on the Kamchatka peninsula in Siberia, waiting for a permit to snowboard in the Kiril Islands. They never get it. An hour in to the film, Rice has just arrived in Alaska to find that the big tops have very little fresh snow.
Rice has been at the top of his sport since he leapt onto the scene – literally – performing a debut 110-foot back rodeo at Superpark in 2001. Produced by Red Bull Media House and Brain Farm Digital Cinema, the U.S. digital filmmaking pioneers, “The Fourth Phase” catches him not only slaying high slopes but in a more reflective mood. That can of course make for a better film. Variety chatted to Rice by phone in Vienna, just before he hit San Sebastian for a big screen Velodrome screening of snowboarding’s biggest theatrical film of the year, which will bow in 200 cinemas in Germany:
“The Fourth Phase” isn’t a normal action movie film. There’s the narrative structure , which is very much that of quest. Like in traditional folk tales, you are seeking something, but you don’t immediately achieve it. It’s like you are going for the Holy Grail of big mountain snowboard runs….
If we zoom back a little, after “The Art of Flight,” I did not want to make Part 2. If we were gonna spend three-to-four more years on another project, we wanted to try something different. This film is more personal for me. I think we set out with a goal, an intention that evolved throughout the making of the film. It’s the beauty of a documentary-style film. You don’t always know where the film is gonna take you. With the intention of a project about following the hydrological cycle, it ended up bringing me to a much more unexpected finish.
The film begins with you talking about yourself, calling yourself “a seeker.” It doesn’t begin with a stunt or you on a mountain. There’s a sense that the whole film is about you trying to find, or think through, your place in the world, and making sense of the world in your own personal terms, and what you can do which is useful in the world.
Yeah, I think that’s pretty accurate. I think any moment in my everyday life, finding things bothersome, difficult, challenging and uncomfortable, left me with a feeling that there is a better way: Life shouldn’t just be endured. It’s possible that with a change of how you perceive things and your own attitude, you can literally change the world. Or at least the way I perceive the world. I think this film was an exploration on how I chose and choose to see things on a daily basis.
When you get to Siberia’s Kuril Islands, you don’t get permission to snowboard, but you did meet some young snowboarders who were fans of yours. One theme of “The Fourth Phase” is how you encourage other people to feel some of the joy and awe which you have felt snowboarding in seemingly impossible places.
Bumping into those guys was such a wake-up call for that trip. It was a prime example of the fact that bringing preconceived expectations to any type of adventure pf ow it will pan out is a set-up for disappointment. We went there thinking we were gonna be able to do some progressive snowboarding in this location and we ended up having probably one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever been on, but it was hard to see that when we were so focused on a goal of taking our snowboarding to a particular place on that trip. I think bumping into those kids was such a beautiful experience because we were in the midst of getting completely shut down on a trip we had worked on for so long. Then we ended up bumping into these kids who had 10-year-old magazines from Europe where I had a cover shot on it. They were such die-hard snowboard fans who lived in this incredibly remote location, and whose to say the only reason we ended up going down was actually just so we could high five these kids and stoke them up.
Since “The Art of Flight,” how has the technology evolved, even in just four years?
The rate at which technology is hitting the market these days is impressive. We strove to capture cine in true 4K, with cutting edge camera systems, everything from Phantom 4K to new experimental heavy-lift drones. We used the Shotover camera which is the new three-axis cable camera that could do things that the original Cineflex that we used in the past couldn’t do. For the first year of production we were using experimental Shotover. We were constantly having techs write software. It made filming difficult using cutting-edge technology because we are taking them out into the back country and often time these are systems designed to be shot in the studio. Also, we really wanted to make a film that was a more immersive experience for the viewer.
My last question, what are you doing now, and planning?
Frankly, I look forward to not having so much of a plan or itinerary. I’m just a happy human that is excited to share my experience. I’m really looking forward to moving into this winter with no plan. To be quite honest. We’ve had such a plan the last four years. If I can help my friends on some projects. To live a little more of a real life without cameras and production.