‘The Movement’ hits screen in Challenge Aspen benefit
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – For six decades, the films associated with Warren Miller had a noble enough purpose: to get people onto mountains, into the snow, with boards on their feet. The films – with a sense of humor, a sense of adventure and the sense that skiing is a sport for everyone – helped change the public perception of skiing.
“We changed millions of people’s lives – getting them excited about getting outdoors and sliding down hills in snow,” said Kurt Miller – the son of ski-film pioneer Warren Miller, producer of numerous ski films in his own right and the former owner of Warren Miller Entertainment – from his office in Boulder.
Kurt Miller’s latest film, though, isn’t just meant to change views on skiing, mountains and the outdoors. “The Movement: One Man Joins an Uprising” is intended to change lives. The film is about a particular community of skiers – those with physical disabilities, including paralysis and blindness – and about Challenge Aspen, the local organization that makes downhilling opportunities available to them. The documentary, shot mostly on the ski mountains in the Aspen area and narrated by Robert Redford and Warren Miller, will be screened Thursday at the Wheeler Opera House in a benefit for Challenge Aspen. Kurt Miller, along with writer and co-director Greg Hamilton, Challenge Aspen instructors Ryan Latham and Nicole Marx, and Aspenite Greg Poschman, who served as director of photography, will be in attendance for a post-screening Q-and-A.
“What I’m doing with ‘The Movement’ – if there’s a time to say there’s something I’m most proud of, this is it,” Kurt Miller said.
The film profiles a handful of skiers – a former soldier whose legs were blown off by a landmine in Vietnam, a man who lost his eyesight in a childhood accident and a woman born with a disease severe enough that she was given little chance of surviving, much less skiing – all of whom become enthusiastic, and often fast and distinguished, skiers. But much of the focus is on Rick Finkelstein, a Hollywood studio executive who lost the use of his legs in a skiing accident on Aspen Mountain. Finkelstein successfully returned to his career but cut skiing out of his life – until 2010, when he returned to Aspen to take advantage of the services offered by Challenge Aspen. “The Movement” follows Finkelstein from his first, frustrating efforts at sit-skiing to making graceful turns.
“Rick was 62, severely paralyzed. And they got him skiing within five days,” Kurt Miller said.
The film also captures skiers like Chris Waddell, a 13-time Paralympic medalist, and Jim Martinson, who launches off a huge jump in Utah.
“Instead of what I can’t do, it’s the ‘I can do’ attitude,” Kurt Miller said of the message behind “The Movement.” He recounted the story of one person who, after becoming partly paralyzed, had trouble connecting with an old friend. After taking up sit-skiing, the two friends spent a day on the slopes together, and the uneasiness disappeared.
“They talked about runs they did rather than disabilities,” Kurt Miller said.
The filmmaker expects “The Movement” to give a boost not just to disabled people but to the able-bodied, as well.
“It made our audience appreciate what they have,” he said.
Among those the film has helped is Kurt Miller himself. For 18 years, he ran Warren Miller Entertainment, serving as producer of the films and handling the marketing end of the business. A decade ago he sold the business and focused on marketing, events and matching ski resorts with sponsors. Some of the work was less than rewarding, including the job of spotlighting the lack of safe drinking water in parts of the world.
“We didn’t raise money or awareness,” he said.
Seeing that selling car sponsorships to ski resorts wasn’t an ideal job during a recession, he thought about how best to use his skills as a filmmaker and marketer. Two and a half years ago, Miller founded Makeahero.org, a group that would use films to raise awareness of programs that provide recreational opportunities for the physically challenged.
Kurt Miller’s next film is about scuba diving for the disabled. His partner is Jean-Michel Cousteau, the son of ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. Kurt Miller says scuba diving, like skiing, is an ideal pursuit for the disabled because it provides environments with few limitations.
“When you get on skis, you have no limitations,” he said, adding that he can’t keep up on skis with Waddell. “You just go – it’s gravity. It’s freedom and gravity and motion that you can’t get any other way. You see the essence of the sport: Just go.”
“The Movement” has brought Kurt Miller to a new level as a filmmaker. None of the films from Warren Miller Entertainment, as iconic as they are, has ever been selected for a film festival. But the 40-minute “The Movement” premiered at the Starz Denver Film Festival and has since screened at Sundance and festivals in Oregon, California, Tennesee, Boulder and Ohio.
“Those were action-adventure films. They’re not true documentaries. They’re about getting people to go skiing,” the 52-year-old Kurt Miller said of the films produced by Warren Miller Entertainment. “‘The Movement’ is about changing people’s lives much more dramatically.”
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It’s that time of year — hikers and mountain bikers must be aware that seasonal closures are taking effect on multiple trails in the area today for the winter for the benefit of wildlife.