Upon the towering, jagged earth that makes up the mountain ranges of British Columbia, Travis Rice stands poised on a precipice, dwarfed by both the celestial and earthly structures that surround him. Without warning he launches himself over the edge, carving barely visible lines in the immaculate mountainside with calm, calculated precision. When juxtaposed with the monolithic landscape, Rice appears little more than a brown speck amid an unruly sea of white, weaving maniacally to some absurd rhythm. Suddenly, the whole mountain face slides away, rapidly evolving into a rampaging white cloud that chases Rice down the incline. Rice is now riding for his life, plummeting with uncompromising speed into the white abyss.
In spite of the potentially fatal situation, Rice survives, making it just one of many adrenaline-filled ventures that comprise his latest film, “The Art of Flight,” a feature-length chronicle of a group of America’s best freestyle snowboarders and their quest to conquer the world’s most precarious mountain ranges. The film, co-produced by Rice and funded by Red Bull, premiered in San Francisco on Nov. 3.
The film, rendered beautifully with the cameras used to make the “Planet Earth” series, takes viewers to locales largely unscathed by humans existence. From the tumultuous ranges of Chile to the icy peaks of Alaska, each location communicates a desire to seek out new extremes among the planet’s unwritten terrain.
“It’s a quest laced with wanderlust,” Rice said. “We’re out looking for natural terrain that poses unique challenges.”
This aim is certainly apparent within the film, as much of it is characterized by an eschewal of both normal snowboarding conventions and, some might say, common sense. Over the course of the film, Rice and company frequently veer off the obvious path in favor of narrow passageways and hanging cliffs, whose height can only be discerned by the duration of the boarder’s flight. Just when you’re certain the boarder has nowhere to go, he plays hopscotch along the mountainside, leaping from one snow-laden boulder to the next to complete his journey to the bottom.
“You’re two-stepping with mother nature, man,” Rice said, smiling. “Sometimes you guys find rhythm, and sometimes you step on her toes or she squashes yours. She’s a big girl.”
Even if the death-defying stunts featured in the film fail to satiate your appetite for all things epic, the gorgeous cinematography is reason enough to check it out. “The Art of Flight” is landscape porn at its finest, showcasing stunning aerial shots of rare locales paired with artistically rendered cosmological backdrops. Slow-motion not only articulates the action, but makes it eloquent, displaying every detail as cascading layers of snow are displaced by the boarder’s descent. It all makes for a “crescendoing experience of oneness,” as Rice describes it, one that conveys exactly what fuels his love of the lifestyle.
“It’s not just a sport,” Rice said. “It’s not just a hobby. It’s not just an activity. It takes you places, and you learn a lot about yourself when you put yourself in awkward situations. That’s when you really figure out who the hell you are.”