Boulder-based filmmaker Nick Waggoner premieres Valhalla tonight in Denver at the Paramount Theatre as the local ski porn season kicks into full swing. The follow-up to Solitude, Waggoner's grim, gritty, and award-winning meditation on death and skiing in South America, is the opposite of all of that.
"It's a total 180," Waggoner told Westword last night, while riding in "a quite loud school bus" full of the merry band of pranksters he's spent the last year living, skiing, filming, and getting naked with in British Columbia and Alaska, as they headed way to Denver for the big night.
"This is the story of an individual going out and re-finding the fire of his life, the feeling that he'd lost in terms of feeling like he was alive and had the same kind of zest for life that he had when he was a kid. For Solitaire the tone was set by some of our athletes passing away, and the entire project was a struggle plagued by a lot of darkness. Whereas this project, Valhalla, is all about a freedom and a wildness. My job this time around was to make myself and everyone around me smile and laugh and scream and dance and have as much fun as they could on a daily basis, which was a pretty awesome gig."
Waggoner promises plenty of smiles, laughing, screaming and dancing to go around tonight. Tickets are $19.50; the screening party starts at 7:30 p.m.
"I feel more heart going into this premiere than I think I have for any other film," he says. "Just so much energy has been poured nto making this project, and so much of all of our lives put into it, that it's surreal to imagine kicking it out into the wold. We take a lot of risks, we do things that are unorthodox, and with that come great rewards but also great anxiety and great stress. In my heart and in my mind I feel so awesome about this film. I know that people will see it and llove it and feel it in their own hearts and their own stoke world as fuel for winter, fuel to get out there and ski and ride."
Valhalla may be unorthodox (the psychedelic film trailers have certainly been intriguing), and challenging some of the traditional ski porn conventions has long been a personal mission for Waggoner. But he says Valhalla is also an action-packed good time featuring some of the world's best backcountry skiiers and snowboarders. It's also a love letter to the Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia where he set up camp for the entirety of the project, immersing himself and his crew in both the terrain and the local community.
"You work so hard at these things and focus so much on the project that ultimately you just fall in love with wherever you are," he says. "I think a piece of me will always be up there, just as a piece of me is always still in Japan from filming Signatures. It's a pretty awesome gift to be able set up shop in a place, focus on it so intently, and just get into it and get after it. The community, the skiing, the vibe... it left a big impression on me. We had a five-bedroom house that became a haven for our crew of athletes and actors and photographers and artists. We'd have these dinners that were 20 deep, with everyone sleeping in the house afterwards. It felt like a really cool family thing going on, and that's all you can ask for in your work, to feel like you're doing cool things with cool people."
Waggoner earned a Best Cinematography nod for Solitude at the 2011 IF3 International Freeski Film Festival, as well as a ton of press, and says the award gave him new confidence to continue pushing against convention as well as new pressure to stay true to himself.
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"If you don't have the right intentions going into a film or when you have the camera in your hands, it shows," he says. "If you're focusing on awards and publicity as an end goal, you're going to create something that will never achieve those awards. When we got that Best Cinematography award we had to pinch ourselves because we were entering a world that we never really felt we were part of. And for as much acclaim as Solitude won, with this film I honestly think it's even a couple steps above that. I think we really have one of the best releases of this winter, no question in my mind, and that's incredible. That's a level of confidence that's entirely new to me."