December 17, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoThe film “Mountain Town” offers an artful view of Aspen. It goes far beyond most promotional efforts by exploring community instead of commodity. Big credit goes to the Skico for trusting in a collaborative effort that involved creative risk.Filmmakers Brendan Kiernan and Frank Pickell of RattleCan Films, native sons now living in Boulder, along with associate director Cherie Silvera, focused on portraits of individuals from diverse backgrounds. These very human ingredients come together in a rich pastiche that portrays Aspen as vibrant and interesting.The skiing footage – all shot locally – is extraordinary. It tells of the wilderness quest, the challenge of the mountains, the irresistible allure of beauty and majesty, and matches it with the intensity of graceful athleticism and mountaineering panache. Footage of Nicky DeVore and Chris Davenport skiing the east face of Castle Peak is nothing short of spectacular. Taken as a whole, the film makes the local audience feel proud to live here, and for good reason. Aspen is a special place filled with unique characters, all of whom could be cast in a hundred “Mountain Town” iterations.For me, the film’s most thoughtful interview is with Jose Angel Rubio, a Mexican immigrant who works at Johnny McGuire’s Deli. Rubio isn’t filmed skiing through fresh powder or working out at a health club or drinking martinis at Belly Up. Rubio is a worker. His quest is the elusive American Dream. Rubio commutes on a RFTA bus an hour and a half each way from where he lives in a mobile home in Rifle. In the film, he explains Rifle was the closest place to Aspen where he and his wife could afford to buy a home. His commute begins at 5:30 a.m. During the winter, he starts out in the dark and comes home in the dark. Rubio’s story speaks to the gritty realism of life in the service sector, of doing the work that underpins the Aspen economy. Rubio shrugs, saying his work is an ordeal at times, but that he endures because he must. His deep hope is to realize the American Dream, or whatever that dream allows this Mexican immigrant. In Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope,” he describes race in America as a continual impediment to equal opportunity. America, despite the civil rights movement of 40 years ago, remains a racially divided country where minorities like Rubio have access to only a limited scope of the American Dream. “In general,” Obama writes, “members of every minority group continue to be measured largely by the degree of their assimilation how closely speech patterns, dress, or demeanor conform to the dominant white culture.” That wasn’t true of Aspen 40 years ago, when Europeans held most of the service jobs. But it’s true today as Latinos fill the lower echelons of the resort economy, not as ski bums, but as serious wage-earners. “We know the statistics,” Obama explains. “On almost every single socioeconomic indicator, from infant mortality to life expectancy to employment to home ownership, black and Latino Americans in particular continue to lag far behind their white counterparts.” “Mountain Town” gives credence to Jose Rubio and to all of those who labor so that the leisure class – the predominant white culture – can enjoy luxury. Audiences get a closeup view, and hopefully a measure of respect, for a working class that is rarely equated with the glamour of the resort experience.The film portrays a cultural cross-section of Aspen that reveals beauty, art, athleticism, prosperity, and the traditional socioeconomic disparity underlying a nation still operating on racial profiles and immigrant servitude. The film made me feel good about Aspen, but far more conscious of the often invisible service workers who support it with their labor.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.
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