"If you could ride anywhere in the world, where would you go?" became a central question for Mike Dion after the success of the Denver-based filmmaker's 2010 film, Ride the Divide. That question became the tagline for his next film, Reveal the Path, which took Dion and some of the world's top mountain bikers and adventure cyclists -- including Kurt Refsnider and Matthew Lee -- through Scotland, Switzerland, France, Morocco, Nepal and Alaska.
Dion premiered his new film last week in Boulder and is now taking the show on the road, with nearly two dozen tour stops along the way. Tonight's screening at the Denver FilmCenter is already sold out, but you can get a sneak preview of Reveal the Path in the following interview with Dion -- and then see the movie when it starts an exclusive run at the Denver FilmCenter at the end of the tour, starting July 27.
Westword: This film is markedly different from a lot of other cycling films and adventure films out there. Can you tell me a bit about what you set out to accomplish as you were approaching it?
To talk about this film I almost need to bring up a little bit about my own previous film, Ride the Divide, which we released a couple of years ago. Since it's been out there we've been getting a lot of e-mails and Facebook posts -- every other day it seems like -- from people saying they found something inspirational in that film. "I did my first 100-mile race after watching your film" or "I bought my first mountain bike" or "I decided to start commuting to work by bike." There was something about the characters in that film and the story in that film that just struck people, and to get those kinds of messages from people inspired by what you created and put out there was a pretty cool thing to experience and feel. So as we were thinking of a new project we definitely wanted to run things through that filter of inspiration: Would the people, places, and story of this film inspire somebody to go out and do something different with their lives?
How did you approach this film differently than the previous film?
Ride the Divide was about the longest mountain bike race in the world and getting on your bike and pedaling as fast as you can across the country. Reveal the Path is more about slowing down and getting on your bike and, instead of going as fast as you can, really having an open mind and observing what's around you, what's in the world, how you move through that world.
Why was it important to you to get as far-flung as you got with the locations for the film?
One of the things we threw around as a big idea for the film, from early on, was that question that ended up framing the trailer: If you could hop on your bike and ride anywhere in the world, where would you go?
We picked places that we thought it would be fantastic to ride across. We went to the Scottish Highlands, riding across the country to see the lochs and the lush valleys and really soak that in. We went to Switzerland and France and the Tour de France was going on so we made it a point to experience that and to explore the High Alps, another great mountain biking destination: The vistas and backdrops of the Alps were breathtaking. From there we went to Morocco, experiencing the local Berber people, getting up to 10,000 feet in the Atlas mountains and sipping mint tea with a Berber family. We went to Nepal, visiting with the people and being welcomed as we were riding through the villages by children giving us a "Namasté" as we rode by, and then on to Alaska to ride the rugged coastal regions.
This film was less about the one-ness and solitude of being on your bike and more about utilizing the bicycle as a means and a mode to get out and experience things that you're not otherwise going to experience through ways that we normally vacation or travel.
What were some of the decisions you made as a filmmaker to bring that message across?
It would have been easy for us to do Ride the Divide 2, but I think this goes quite a bit deeper than what that would have been. For this film I really wanted the audience to think a little bit about their own life and to have some questions: Am I living life to the fullest? Is there something out there that I haven't experienced? Am I in a rut? Should I quit doing what I'm doing because I'm unhappy and do something else that I've always dreamt about doing? Have I seen enough of the world? I really wanted to people to walk away from this film and reassess some things about their lives and what the world has to offer. I'm not really expecting people to go quit their jobs to go chasing after some dream or go ride their bike on the other side of the world somewhere, but if that indeed does happen, how fantastic would that be? To shake somebody out of their rut and inspire them to do something fantastic with their lives?
What's that moment like for you where you shift from working on a film to getting that film out in front of people, and especially getting it out in front of local audiences and your peers in Colorado's adventure filmmaking community?
The process from start to finish for a feature length project can be at least a year, from the time you've raised your budget and start legitimate production through to the end of the editing process and post-production. I'd liken it to giving birth: You go through the entire process and when it's time to put your child out into the world, the month leading up to it is just incredibly nerve-wracking. You don't know what it's going to feel like or what people are going to think about it or how beautiful your baby is going to be. But once it's out there and the audience is there and people are clapping at the same time, laughing in all the right places, holding their breath at the same time... it's an incredibly rewarding feeling.
Then again, the whole process is pretty taxing. Just to use the birthing metaphor again, you get this feeling like, "I don't know if I ever want to do another one of these again!" Then a little bit of time goes by and you put that out of your head and think, "Let's jump back in and make another one."
Why do you think this adventure filmmaking community in Colorado has been growing so much in recent years? It's like a baby boom around here!
Well, to start with the obvious, Colorado is an amazing state from a recreational standpoint, as we all know, and that's why so many of us live here and why so many of us are inspired to document that fact: From the rivers to the mountains to the bike trails and everything in between it's a mecca for adventure of any kind.
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And then from an equipment standpoint it's all just gotten much more accessible and affordable, to where the price point for high-tech, high-definition camera systems is such that you can fairly easily get a setup that's going to produce a broadcast-quality, theatrical-quality image up on screen, even with a camera that only costs a couple hundred bucks. That's making the entry level easier for filmmakers, and then so many people are creating this type of content that the bar gets continually raised. Everyone is learning from each other and, frequently, collaborating with each other. It's all pushing everybody to step up and do something unique or take it to another level.
And, maybe most importantly, we've grown the audience for these kinds of films here, with festivals like Mountainfilm in Telluride, the 5 Point Film Festival, and the Adventure Film Festival helping to stoke the fires. If you're able to tell a compelling adventure story or deliver a compelling message that resonates, your film is going to find an audience in Colorado, which gives you a tremendous platform for launching a film tour to take it out elsewhere.