Celin Serbo brings motion to still life
With his first feature-length adventure film — “feature length” in the adventure genre meaning more than four minutes — Celin Serbo admits he didn’t have much of a plan going in.
“It was definitely thrown together,” says the Boulder, Colo.-based adventure photographer and cinematographer. “We had no detailed story board. We just wanted to see what we could get.”
What emerged was 2011’s “Cyclocross Colorado Front Range,” a mix of race footage and interviews that looks like it did indeed set out with a purpose: to explain the allure of this quirky cycling hybrid that involves carrying one’s bike as much as riding it. The five-minute video includes footage from about a half dozen races shot in a local amateur cyclocross series.
“These were people doing whatever they were doing during the week, then coming out there to hammer it out on the weekend,” Serbo says.
Adding video to the mix
It’s that desire to tell the story behind the image that lured Serbo, a professional still photographer, to expand into video about five years ago.
“I noticed that most of these videos where short on storytelling,” Serbo says of his motivation. “I mean, how many super slow shots of powder flying can you watch?”
It was that same desire to tell a story that lead to a six-minute film on off-width climber Pamela Shanti Pack. “Off-width Outlaw” is one of 11 films in this year’s Radical Reels Tour 2014, which plays Sept. 4 at Winston-Salem’s Hanesbrands Theatre, and Sept. 5 at the Varsity Theater in Chapel Hill. The Tour features some of the top short feature films of the year in the adventure world.
Serbo spent his formative years in Northern Arizona. After graduating with a business degree from Northern Arizona University, he moved to Denver and immediately put his business degree to work — as a mountain guide. Someone gave him a camera, he started shooting on his trips. Someone else said his work was good, he should enter contests. He did, quickly winning a competition sponsored by Patagonia. In 1993, he added still photography to his professional resume.
Going full time
In 2004 he decided to commit to his photography so he quit guiding and, for the next five years drove a school bus for the Boulder Valley School District. “It was the perfect job,” says Serbo. “It was steady money, I had health care and I had the middle of the day free for my photography.”
Boulder is a magnet for creative types, creating a competitive market for, among others, photographers. Serbo says that proved to be a plus: there’s a lot of give-and-take, a supportive environment. Plus, for an adventure photographer Boulder is nestled in Colorado’s photogenic Front Range and is crawling with high-performing athletes. Athletes such as Pamela Shanti Pack, whom he met at breakfast one morning a few years back.
“I’d heard of her,” says Serbo, “but didn’t know that much about her.” There was, he knew, a lot to learn. For starters she holds a degree in surveying from Yale University and has an extensive off-width resume, with more than 50 first female ascents throughout the West. She seemed a natural subject for Serbo’s first feature profile.
“Off-width Outlaw” grew out of a pitch Serbo made to profile Pack for Outside Television’s “Dispatches” segment. Serbo was interested in doing more than the minute-long Dispatch, so he invested his fee into a more extensive shoot, including helicopter shots and more cameras. He, Pack and his crew spent three days filming in the Canyonlands of southern Utah.
“Off-width Outlaw” has plenty of up-close footage shot several hundred feet above the canyon floor. Footage showing Shanti Pack cramming her fists into a five-inch crack, of her inverted and wedging her feet into the sandstone’s narrow cleavage, of blood seeping through her taped fingers. At first, you marvel at her skill and endurance. Eventually, it dawns on you that there’s someone sharing this precarious perch while operating a camera.
Shooting a climber
Serbo dispels some of the man-behind-the curtain mystery of getting such challenging shots.
“We weren’t necessarily up there climbing,” Serbo says. “Her partner was a big help, setting a fixed rope with a mechanical ascender.” Instead of climbing, they were hanging.
The real challenge of this kind of shoot, he adds, is the light. There was keeping track of the usual sunrise and sunset, but also the sun’s arc throughout the day at that time of year (“Off-width Outlaw” was shot in April, of 2013). “The walls go in and out of sunlight throughout the day,” he says. “For the bigger cracks, the sun is a real challenge” trying to catch Pack’s hands in good light as they jam into a crack.
Mixed in, of course, is the story of Pamela Shanti Pack as told by herself. “Move maybe an inch, then hyperventilate for about 30 seconds, then move maybe another inch. … There’s a tremendous amount of pain involved in off-width climbing and I really do thrive on that pain.”
That pain is key to appreciating “Off-width Outlaw,” says Serbo.
“To really appreciate this video,” he advises, “you need to get out and climb some off-width yourself.”
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Radical Reels 2014: When & Where
When: Thursday, Sept. 4, doors open at 6:30 p.m., show is at 7 p.m.
Where: Winston-Salem: Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 N Spruce St.
Cost: $15 in advance at Great Outdoor Provision Co., Thruway Shopping Center, 402 South Stratford Road, Winston-Salem; $17 at the box office
When: Friday, Sept. 5, doors open at 6:30 p.m., show is at 7 p.m.
Where: Chapel Hill’s Varsity Theatre, 123 East Franklin St.
Cost: $15 in advance at Great Outdoor Provision Co., Eastgate Shoping Center, 1800 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill; $17 at the box office.
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Radical Reels lineup
2013, Canada, 15 Minutes ?Filmmakers: Kyle Norbraten, Dylan Dunkerton and Curtis Robinson, the Coastal Crew. ?Websites: www.thecoastalcrew.com, www.anthillfilms.com, www.secondbasefilms.com
Ant Hill Farms and the Coastal Crew area leaders in providing the kind of video eye candy we love to see. But with so much out there — when everyone with a HeroCam thinks they can be the next Warren Miller — how do you distinguish yourself? In “Arrival,” the crew focuses on new riders, new places and — nudity? (That’s what the classification for this film advises.) Seems dicey in a film about extreme mountain biking.
Be the Trail
2013, Canada, 5 minutes ?Filmmakers: Logan Tacoma, Michelle Peters, Morgan Edwards
Another way to distinguish yourself in this crowded genre? Humor. One of the most successful efforts along these lines was “Narsicame,” www.dangerouscircus.com from the 2012 RR Tour, a jab at our obsession with filming our every move. Less successful is this year’s “Be the Trail,” which, apparently, pokes fun at folks who take riding too seriously. A worthy topic, but not worthy, at least with this approach, of five minutes.
Beyond the Drop
2013, USA, 7 minutes ?Filmmakers: Seth Pulford, Mark Anders, Rush Sturges ?www.river-roots.com
“2.2 second of pure stoke and fear. It’s the eye-candy everyone wants to see. But it’s only a fraction of the story. … There’s a story behind every drop, and this is ours.” You can only take so much of the same jaw-dropping footage before the next clip musters an “eh” sentiment. What’s just as interesting is how this 2.2 seconds came to be, and that’s the story of “Beyond the Drop,” in which six pro kayakers from around the world gather to run the blue waters of the Agua Azul in the rainforests of southern Mexico.
Dream Lines IV
2014, Norway, 6 minutes ?Filmmaker: Jokke Sommer ?www.jokkesommer.com
Sure, who wouldn’t love to fly? And that should be part of the allure of wingsuit flying. But when most of us dream of flying, we dream of slowly soaring, of seeking that coveted birds-eye view — not Supermanning between evergreens at 120 miles per hour. With mountain biking, with kayaking, with skiing and riding, we can relate to some degree with the antics of these extreme films; with wingsuit flying, not so much. Six minutes of ducking and hiding our eyes as these folks pass within a whisker of yet another granite pinnacle.
2013, Canada, 6 minutes ?Filmmakers: Switchback Entertainment ?www.switchbackentertainment.com
“Ghost Town” marries the history of British Columbia’s gold rush and bust of the 1800s with a rush of a different kind — that found from the powder that covers what remains of those long-abandoned dreams. Trick skiers Josh Daiek, Mike Henitiuk and Kieran Nikula use the remains of those long-abandoned gold mines as a platform for their playful form of skiing. A mix of black & white (most everything) and color (except the skiers themselves) offers a nice contrast.
Nine Queens – Shades of Winter
2013, Austria, 4 minutes ?Filmmakers: Sandra Lahnsteiner and The Distillery ?www.shades-of-winter.com
Women play a greater role in this year’s Radical Reels Tour — which is to say that fully two of this year’s 11 films feature females. “Nine Queens: Shades of Winter” follows nine female freestyle skiers as they drop off snow cliffs, fly over snow castles and basically do what their male counterparts do. As seen through the lens of filmmaker/skier Sandra Lahnsteiner.
2013, USA, 5 minutes ?Filmmaker: Celin Serbo ?Classification: General, no advisory ?www.serbophoto.com
In the climbing community, off-width climbing — relying entirely on cracks bigger than your fist to work your way up the wall — is considered an odd sidelight. For those climbers who do it exclusively, it’s considered a weird obsession. And when a woman does it? When that woman is Pamela Shanti Pack of Boulder, Colo., no one who knows what’s good for them says much of anything. According to the film’s promo, “she’s the meanest crack climbing thug you’ve ever met.”
2013, Norway, 4 minutes ?Filmmaker: Fredrik Sellergren, Paul Goransson
“World Wingsuit Champion Espen Fadnes on the future of wingsuiting and his transition to life as a professional extreme sports athlete.” With subtitles.
The Sensei (Reel Rock 8)
2013, USA, 26 minutes ?Filmmakers: Josh Lowell, Nick Rosen, Brett Lowell, Peter Mortimer, Big UP Productions, Sender Films ?Classification: General, no advisory ?www.reelrocktour.com
Note: Radical Reels Night People’s Choice Award
The Reel Rock videos are always among the stars in a Radical Reels Tour. This time, RR 8 brings us: “East meets West and old meets new. Twenty-something world class boulderer, Daniel Woods, and 43-year old climbing veteran, Yuji Hirayam, team up for the expedition of a lifetime. But when Daniel-san travels to Japan to prove himself worthy of Hirayama’s mentorship, the question becomes, who learns from whom?”
2013, Norway, 16 minutes ?Filmmakers: Filip Christensen, Even Sigstad, Field Productions ?Classification: General, no advisory ?www.fieldprod.com
In the less than two-minute teaser for “Supervention,” world-class skiers take their first turn on an Olympic ski jump. Nailing it is impressive enough; they then go past the end of the course to skate off a wall. Curious to see what the remaining 14 minutes hold.
2013, USA, 20 minutes ?Filmmaker: Ben Stookesberry, Clear H20 Films ?Classification: Parental Guidance, coarse language ?www.clearh2ofilms.com
Just watching what Chris Korbulic, Ben Stookesberry have to go through to get to the “put-in” for the first successful ascent of the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park is fascinating — and harrowing — enough. Watching them descend — well, if you’ve become jaded watching kayakers go over big drops, this could restore your faith in insanity. Crazy stuff.