It began in 1949 when Warren Miller, then a ski instructor in Sun Valley, Idaho, bought an 8 mm film camera and decided to make a little movie about life on the slopes. The finished product went over well with the folks who saw it in local halls and theaters, so he made another the following year. And so on and so on, a ritual that continues 63 years later, with the company Miller created (and left in 2004) still producing one greatly anticipated feature-length ski flick a year.

The genre Miller essentially created has, over the last 20 years, expanded greatly. An explosion of photogenic adventure pursuits — led by whitewater kayaking, rock climbing, bouldering, mountain biking, snowboarding and skateboarding — has provided the material, a similar explosion in sophisticated video technology available on the cheap has provided the means for aspiring dirtbag directors to load their buddies into the microbus and head to the gnarliest whitewater, the steepest drops, the most impossible routes to nab a few minutes of jaw-dropping footage.

The result: film festivals such as the Radical Reels Tour 2012, a collection of 11 short films representing the best action sport films to come out of the celebrated Banff Mountain Film Festival. This is the ninth annual Radical Reels Tour and will air Sept. 6 in Chapel Hill at the Varsity Theater and Sept. 7 at the Hanesbrands Theatre  in Winston-Salem.

The films, ranging in length from four to 22 minutes, cover a variety of pursuits: skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, freeride mountain biking, whitewater kayaking and rock climbing. As you might guess from having seen similar shorts (or extreme videos on You Tube) the people behind the lens are often every bit as involved in the filming as the stars themselves.

Rush Sturges, for example, is the force behind “Frontier,” a 20-minute ode to whitewater kayaking around the globe. Sturges grew up on the Salmon River, won the Junior World Championships of freestyle kayaking in 2003 and continues to compete professionally — when he’s not on the river filming for his River Roots studio, which produced “Frontier.” (Or when he’s not performing adventure-themed hip-hop under the name AdrenalineRush).

Darrell Miller is a veteran of the modern ski filmmaking industry, best known for shooting in his native Jackson Hole, Wyoming. His “Miller’s Thriller: Ski BASE” focuses on the extreme of extreme skiing — ski BASE jumping, and also includes some vintage footage dating back to the early 1990s (older skiers will be reminded of how much has changed in just 20 years).

One of the more curious entries comes from bobsled-track-skateborder-for-hire Danny Strasser, a German whose 7-minute-long “Concrete Dreams” is basically him longboarding down some of Europe’s more renowned “bobtracks.” As his press notes note, “Bobtrack downhill skateboarding is a sport that didn’t actually exist— until Danny Strasser … .” Riveting for the first couple minutes, not so much for the last five.

Mountain bikers will like the collaborative work of The Coastal Crew and Anthill Films, the latter of which has compiled some of the best and most diverse fat tire footage around.

You’ll get a taste of the self-indulgence that occasionally infuses today’s adventure shorts (“Here We Go Again,” “Cat Skiing”) as well as a hilarious sendup of the same in Bill Donavan’s “Narsicame,” which salutes the work of the Narsicame Institute for Healing in its tireless effort to help the Hero cam addicted point the camera toward subjects other than themselves.

And there’s the topical. “Reel Rock: Race for the Nose,” winner of the Radical Reels People’s Choice Award takes a look at speed climbing, specifically Hans Florine and Dean Potter’s competition to be the fastest to scale Yosemite’s El Capitan. (The current record to ascend the 3,000-foot wall: 2 hours, 37 minutes, 5 seconds.) At 22 minutes, it’s the longest film in the Radical Reels collection and the one that passes quickest as it explores the ego and insanity of the anything-goes sport of speed climbing.

Eleven films, more than a half dozen disciplines, 109 minutes of total footage — coming September 6 and 7 to a theater near you (provided you live in the Triangle or Triad).



Radical Reels showings

Thursday, September 6 – Chapel Hill, NC
Doors 6:30 / Show 7:00
Varsity Theater
123 East Franklin Street
Tickets: $15 “Pre-Sale” special at the Chapel Hill Eastgate GOPC; $17 online or at box office

Friday, September 7 – Winston Salem, NC
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 7:30 PM
Hanesbrands Theatre
209 North Spruce St.
Tickets: $15 “Pre-Sale” special at the Winston-Salem Thruway GOPC; $17 online or at box office


Radical Reels lineup


All.I.Can: Perseverance (custom edit for the Radical Reels Tour)

Canada, 2011

8 minutes

Directed by: Dave Mossop, Eric Crosland

Produced by: Malcolm Sangster, Eric Crosland

Awards: Best Feature-length Mountain Film, Sponsored by Town of Banff


Quick hit: Mellow environmental theme in this pean to the beauty and beastliness of skiing. Features the usual ski bum suspects, as well as 76-year-old Mary Woodward, who skis 100-plus days a year and scoffs at anything that doesn’t involve deep powder.

The Art of Flight

USA, 2011

8 minutes

Produced and directed by: Curtis Morgan


Quick hit: Snowboarders, including Travis Rice, spend more time flying over the snow than plowing through it. Includes a guy riding the cables of a ski lift, as well as lots of high-def, slo-mo footage.

Cat Skiing

Canada, 2011

7 minutes

Produced and directed by: Darren Rayner, Callum Jelley, Mason Mashon


Quick hit: A bit self-indulgent with a set-up and a conceit that doesn’t seem relevant (see “Narsicame”), but otherwise lots of good snowboarding and skiing footage.

Concrete Dreams

Germany, 2011

7 minutes

Produced and directed by: Danny Strasser


Quick hit: Pretty much 7 minutes of Danny Strasser skateboarding (on a longboard) some of the more renowned “bobtracks” (“bobsled runs,” for the uninitiated) of Europe. Much of the footage shows Strasser grabbing his butt — understandably. Raises the question: How does he stop? Or even slow down?

From the Inside Out (custom edit for the Radical Reels Tour)

Canada, 2011

13 minutes

Directed by: Dylan Dunkerton, Kyle Norbraten, Curtis Robinson (The Coastal Crew)

Produced by: Ian Dunn, Kyle Norbraten, Darcy Wittenburg


Quick hit: Mountain bikers will love this look at freeriding in British Columbia and elsewhere, starting with how a trail is carved through a dense Pacific Northwest forest, then on to the riding. They make it look so easy!

Frontier (custom edit for the Radical Reels Tour)

USA, 2010

20 minutes

Produced & directed by: Rush Sturges


Quick hit: Includes jaw-dropping footage of whitewater kayakers frolicking in big, ugly water, of course, but also some insight into why these guys do what they do and how they do it. It’s like “solving a puzzle” one kayaker offers.

Here We Go Again (custom edit for the Radical Reels Tour)

USA, 2010

10 minutes

Directed by: Don Hampton, Gardy Raymond

Produced by: Don Hampton


Quick hit: Guys in jeans and lumberjack shirts doing circle loops on rollers, wipe outs on jumps, shooting cans of Red Bull full of holes in the woods. Another “Narsicame” candidate, but fun.

Miller’s Thriller: Ski BASE

USA, 2010

6 minutes

Produced and directed by: Darrell Miller


Quick hit: Darrell Miller grew up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and he uses his familiarity with the terrain to shoot riveting ski BASE jumps.


USA, 2011

4 minutes

Produced and directed by: Bill Donavan


Quick hit: You no doubt know this person, you may well be this person: he/she (but more than likely “he”) can’t make a move on his bike/board/boat without documenting it on his Hero cam. This 4-minute public service announcement from the Narsicame Institute for Healing may be the first step toward ignoring the flashing red light.

Reel Rock: Race for the Nose

USA, 2011

22 minutes

Produced & directed by: Nick Rosen, Peter Mortimer


Awards: Radical Reels People’s Choice Award

Quick hit: It is perhaps the craziest type of competition in the adrenal arts: speed climbing. Especially when it comes to the likes of trying to be the fastest up the 3,000-vertical-foot Nose route of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. This film looks specifically at the competition between Hans Florine and Dean Potter’s ego as they attempt to break the current record of 2 hours, 37 minutes and 5 seconds. As one observer in the film notes: “Anything goes, pulling on gear, stepping on somebody … .”

Whitewater Grand Prix

Canada, 2011

4 minutes

Produced by: Patrick Camblin

Directed by: Patrick Camblin / Tribe Alliance


Quick hit: Six elite kayakers participate in a six-stage competition on some of the biggest, widest, tallest, roiliest whitewater around. Some fun footage as well, such as an overhead shot of gull in the foreground that appears to be pacing one of the paddlers below.