“Signatures” Ski Movie is Art

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | September 16, 2009      
Movie Reviews

Movie Reviews

Last evening we screened Sweetgrass Productions’ new ski movie “Signatures.” I’ve always had the feeling Sweetgrass director Nick Waggoner was headed towards making what could be called “art” films, and this one takes him farther along that path. In fact, this is a movie that could hold its own at nearly any film festival, be it outdoor related or not. But, it also works as a snow rider flick, replete with segments that’ll cause tele kids to salivate, fixed heelers to cheer, and snowboarders to take long meditation breaks because they’ll now be in touch with their soul.

Sweetgrass tour bus.

The Sweetgrass tour bus reguired about $75 worth of colored tape to bring into being. That's Sweetgrass folks Zac Ramras (left), Nick in middle, Lena Willams (right).

In filming entirely in the mountains of Japan’s northern island (Hokkaido), Sweetgrass took full advantage of the region’s legendary powder snow. I was blown away by some of the white-room sequences that resulted. A variety of mellow yet enjoyable music accompanies most of the skiing (almost all in slow-mo), with narration in soulful sounding Japanese translated by subtitles. I found the subs hard to read on a large TV screen, let’s hope they work better in a theater. Even so, I could track the gist of what various Japanese riders were saying about how skiing and snowboarding connect them to nature, and how the changing of the seasons string it all together.

The Japanese emphasis on nature we hear in “Signatures” probably harkens to the nature worship component of Shinto, a common spiritual practice of Japan. This comes across nicely in the movie, but if you want to get serious, I’d offer that many folks like to look at the spirituality of alpine sports as a way to get a sense of something beyond nature. Mysticism, if you will. So in that sense, a heavy theme of nature worship can get tiresome. Sorry, getting a bit esoteric there. I’ll stop.

Another thing that struck me about “Signatures” was texture. Nearly every frame in the film appears as if you reached out and touched the screen, you’d actually feel the snow crystals melting on your fingers, or you’d brush the fine texture of calligraphy paper used by Japanese artists and snowboard shapers featured in the flick. It’s really quite amazing that way; for something flat to appear so three dimensional. This is testimony to how a practiced eye with some artistic sense can use perspective and light to re-create and enhance reality. Pay attention to this when you watch the film, and you’ll see that quite a bit of other ski filmography is one-dimensional in comparison. You might even get spoiled and want more. Is Sweetgrass setting a trend here?

In a word, I loved this film. My only caveat is please don’t enter the theater expecting “Signatures” to provide the adrenaline pounding, rock music fueled sequences of Matchstick or TGR. Instead, get ready to explore your kinder, gentler side. Perhaps you’ll take up Shinto, or beyond?

For more from Sweetgrass, click the backcountry skiing films linkage.

September 19th Aspen, CO, WORLD PREMIERE Wheeler Opera House 7pm $10 — live deep-country blues from John-Alex Mason to follow. Stay after for Mason. CU there.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


18 Responses to ““Signatures” Ski Movie is Art”

  1. Mark September 16th, 2009 11:02 am

    Impressive cinematography. I can only imagine how disciplined one would have to be to set up shots like these and film when all the photographer wants is to make turns in the fantastic fluff.

  2. Lou September 16th, 2009 1:24 pm

    The snow they shot in the movie is simply amazing. Like Wasatch x 2.

  3. Ryan Jennings September 16th, 2009 4:44 pm

    Very nice! Certainly excellent texture there. We saw the bus role through town yesterday. My son thought it was pretty groovy:)

  4. OMR September 16th, 2009 4:55 pm

    So, by Wasatch X 2 are you saying tracked out by noon? Just wondering how crowded the “BC” is in Japan.

  5. sweetgrassp September 16th, 2009 4:59 pm

    the Japanese backcountry is ridiculously empty. there are miles of mountains and no people.

  6. Lou September 16th, 2009 6:26 pm

    Amazing the Japanese backcountry is so uncrowded. Goes to show, crowding is a cultural thing, not a function of population…

  7. Bob Walker September 22nd, 2009 4:12 pm

    Very well done, catches the “SOUL” of the sport. Amazing pow!

  8. Mark Billingsley September 29th, 2009 2:26 pm

    As I understand from people who have been there and my reading about it (love to go myself) that the Japanese really aren’t that fond of powder. That they prefer the groomed (which is crowded).

  9. NORTH.BEND October 8th, 2009 9:12 am

    Come see Signatures in North Bend, WA…10/18 at the historic North Bend Theater. Tickets on sale at Pro Ski Service….$10 /$7 13 and under. Great prizes and beer garden proceeds go to Alpental BARK program. See you there!

  10. Benj November 15th, 2009 6:32 pm

    “the Japanese backcountry is ridiculously empty. there are miles of mountains and no people.”

    dudeeee keep it quiet :ninja: Hokkaido locals like me are loving this DVD but are worried about the population increase from the publicity 😡


  11. YamaToby November 15th, 2009 8:07 pm

    spot on Benj. We :heart: our Hokkaido stashes. It’s too expensive, way too far (getting to Tokyo is only half the trip), too difficult to travel around without knowing Japanese and, dudes, you drive on the other side of the road here. And you can’t make a free turn on a red light. Obviously, waaaaaaaaay too many reasons to leave the pow pow here alone and head to Alaska instead! :tongue:

  12. Benj November 15th, 2009 10:46 pm

    and there are all the animals with rabies–

    and foxes that have Echinococcosis– that will kill you right quick!

    plus all the super aggressive yettis that have claw hands the size of frying pans, that can rip your face off without effort!

    Hokkaido is a death trap that shouldnt be traveled, and especially not skiied.


  13. Bart Edson January 11th, 2010 12:58 am

    I was skiing at Squaw Valley this weekend. While having lunch at the Gold Coast Lodge, I saw at the other end of the room, above the bar, this movie playing on the TV. I couldn’t hear the sound, but the beautiful filming and editing kept me spellbound while eating my burger and even after I was done. This is an art film, and a damn good on. From what I saw it should be playing in festivals. It stood out for me across a crowded noisy room and kept my attention. Great job, guys!

  14. Lou January 11th, 2010 3:01 am

    Bart, thanks for bringing thus up. The lack of hype and pretension in the Sweetgrass film, in comparison to the Redbull film, is an amazing contrast that shows the range of how film making engages us. It’s like the difference between a bottle of Thunderbird and a bottle of fine Cabernet. Both will gi ve you a buzz, but the experience is still totally different, as are the motivations behind the production.

  15. Nick September 30th, 2010 4:51 pm

    Nice! Great film, I am always looking for new ski films! Check out the new one from Legs Of Steel: The Pilot! It’s packed with tons of high energy skiing, some of the biggest hits I ve seem and great deep pow as well!
    Thanks for the great post!
    – @VIrginiaSkier

  16. justsomeguyinCO May 16th, 2012 5:34 pm

    Its beyond art, this movie is what I feel on every powder day. Its the essence of soul riding. It changed my life, or maybe just affirmed what I have always felt.

    I liked the reference to Shintoism in your review, very thoughtful and right on the money.

    Thank you Sweetgrass

  17. RyanL November 14th, 2012 7:01 pm

    Planning a trip to Japan in a few months. Does anyone know of any good locations/lodges that would be a good base for ski touring? Keen to get away from the resorts and crowds etc. so far the only places I have been able to find are based out of resort towns. Any ideas greatly appreciated

  18. Mark November 14th, 2012 8:06 pm

    Has anyone toured with the G3 Manhattan as compared to the G3 Zenoxide?
    How does it turn and tree ski? Thanks for any feedback!

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