Over the weekend, director Skip Armstrong and the Carbondale-based Forge Motion Pictures crew premiered Nomad and The Mother at the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale. The films are the first in a planned five-part web series titled Of Souls+Water, profiling five different people whose lives revolve around water; the series will be released online over the next five months through a partnership with NRS Films and New Belgium Brewing. We caught up with Armstrong for a chat about the series and a full look at Nomad, a portrait of adventurer Erik Boomer (video after the jump).
Westword: Can you tell me a little about the concept behind the Of Souls+Water films?
Armstrong: The concept was not to feature any sport in particular but to use these sports as a vehicle to tell the stories of each individual character and, in the bigger picture, to examine the ways in which water courses through all of our lives. We wanted to show an even balance of the good and bad of these adventure lifestyles, focusing on each athlete and their story. It's easy enough to make adventure porn and to make these sports look good on film, but the more we keep at it the more we gravitate towards the stories behind those adventures. For these films we sought out characters who had a fair amount of depth, people who've had both triumphs and tremendous struggle, and we set out to ask some fundamental questions about why they do the things the do. I set out to make each of these films a portrait.
Can you introduce us to some of these characters?
Well, we've only shot two of the episodes so far -- we're really depending on Mother Nature and waiting for the seasons to change before we can shoot the other three. But the first up is Erik Boomer, in Nomad. He's run some impossibly difficult whitewater and always approaches any challenge as a philosopher. He was one of the National Geographic Explorers of the Year this year, along with John Turk, for their Arctic exploration completing the first circumnavigation of Canada's Ellesmere Island National Park, and for our film we also followed him through the streets of Washington, DC and around Baja, Mexico and filmed him going over Sahalie Falls on the McKenzie River in Oregon.
Erik was super intriguing to me, and some questions I had going in were "What goes through somebody's head before they take on adventures like these?" and "What is he searching for?" There's two worlds with Erik, the physical world and the internal world, and he's very much immersed in each. Following him around each of those worlds for two or three months has been a very rewarding experience for me.
The next character in the series is Melody Shapiro, an avid sea kayaker who is 67 years old. I wanted the perspective of somebody with some more life experience, somebody in the later half of their life, looking both backward and forward, while also living in the moment. The Mother will be released online next month, on May 28.
Your films have a very distinctive aesthetic feel that, as you mentioned, is different from some of the "adventure porn" we see a lot of. Is there anything in particular you're going for with the Of Souls+Water films?
We've been working really hard to shoot very particular shots and we're being very patient because we want these films to look like art, not just exciting shots, and because the storytelling is paramount. We also really wanted to bring a high production value, so we're shooting all of these films on high-definition RED Digital Cinema cameras, bringing cranes and dollies out to the middle of nowhere, and really pushing ourselves to achieve a certain look and atmospheric feel to these films.
This has been a big year for Forge Motion Pictures, with Anson Fogel's sweep of the big adventure film awards for his film "Cold" and Forge landing the gig to shoot the new Colorado tourism video campaign. Have those successes made your work any easier as you've embarked on this new project?
We're just so lucky to be a part of this amazing outdoor filmmaking community, and to have had these incredible projects to be a part of. And we're so honored to be able to go to places like Mountainfilm and Telluride and the Adventure Film Festival in Boulder and the Banff Mountain Film Festival and be recognized for the hard work and contributions everybody's been putting in... it's hard to put into words how honored we are to have those opportunities. And then to be hired for a project like the Colorado tourism campaign to go out and share beauty we live in the middle of with everyone else, that was a huge springboard. I think it has definitely given us some latitude to do even bigger projects now and in the future.
Can you tell me about the decision to share the Of Souls+Water shorts online, for free?
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It's so amazing right now to have the platform to be able to release videos to a wide audience via the Internet, and it's something everyone who makes films is going to have to explore. For the Of Souls+Water films, we wanted to be able to shoot these when the river or ocean conditions are perfect and then offer them to our audience pretty darn quick after we shoot them, and our partnership with NRS Films and New Belgium Brewing is allowing us to do that. But we'll also be taking these films on the festival circuit and we're really excited to have had the opportunity to premiere the first two at the 5Point Film Festival. To envision something, and work hard on it, and then actually see it come to life and project it onto a screen for an audience, to see your films actually come to fruition and get in front of people -- whether it's a theater screen or millions of computer screens around the world -- it's all very exciting, and very rewarding.
To keep up with the next films in the Of Souls+Water series, stay tuned to the NRS Films Vimeo page.