5Point Film Fest: ‘When We Were Knights’

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
The short film "When We Were Knights" portrays the bond between BASE-jumpers Matt Blank and Ian Flanders.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: ‘When We Were Knights’ at 5Point Film Festival

Where: Carbondale Rec Center

When: Friday, April 22, 7 p.m. program


Can a 12-minute movie about BASE jumping make you laugh and cry and also dizzy with adrenaline? Apparently so.

Anson Fogel’s poignant and irreverent “When We Were Knights,” a story of the love and friendship between BASE-jumpers Ian Flanders and Matt Blank, does just that.

Flanders died on a jump in Turkey last summer. This isn’t much of a spoiler because the fatal accident made international news. And the film doesn’t focus so much on that July day, but instead on the bond between Flanders and Blank that was forged through their adventures together.

“How can you express everything you want to someone knowing that if you don’t that might be the last opportunity that you have,” Blank says in the film. “So yeah, I said ‘I love you’ to him all the time. And even when I didn’t, I could just look at him and he knew.”

The narrative of the short film is driven by Blank reading a letter that he’d kept with him for Flanders, in case he died on a jump.

“Well, Ian, if you’re reading this it means I’ve had a bad day,” it opens. “But if you’re reading this it also means you’re okay. So: silver lining.”

It goes on to sketch out Blank’s hopes for their future (“I always expected us to grow old together, raise shredder kids …”) and why Flanders was the ideal partner in BASE jumping (“You always believe that your contribution should be in strengthening your partner”).

The film opens in a cloud. We see wisps of rock, someone’s voice says, “Wait for a little bit, man, it’s not quite there.” Then someone is counting “3 … 2 … 1,” and suddenly we’re flying off of a cliff with Flanders and Blank gliding beside cliffs in wingsuits above a green valley.

The film shifts deftly between the letter, GoPro footage of the men in flight and their hijinks on the road between jumps: they piss in garbage cans, play guitar badly, lip-sync less badly, do silly photo shoots, complain about one another’s bodily odors and jump from extreme heights in silly costumes. Which is to say they’re off-kilter like a lot of the adventurers and weekend warriors who’ll be in the crowd at the 5Point Film Festival today, when “When We Were Knights” has its world premiere.

After Flanders’ death, Blank kept his ashes with him in a can on a road trip, taking him on new jumps and keeping the filmed silliness going in his friend’s honor. Flanders had requested his ashes be spread off of a jump site in the Yosemite Valley.

“A lot of people need to spend time with Ian in a can,” Blank says.

Along with the laughter and tears, the film offers an incisive look at the risk-versus-reward debate that inevitably comes up in conversation about deaths from BASE jumping and other extreme sports. There’s no posthumous regret to be found here. As Blank puts it, “You either live a genuine life that’s true to who you are, or you don’t. Our genuine life was one that was full of risk. So that’s the life we lived.”

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