‘American Downhiller’ documentary races to the last Twilight Drive-In at Utah Olympic Park
What: “American Downhiller” at the Twilight Drive-In at Utah Olympic Park
When: 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept, 20
Cost: $30 per carload
With all North American races dropped from this winter’s alpine World Cup schedule, the screening of “American Downhiller” couldn’t come at a better time.
The film, which was produced and made by a team consisting of producers Claire Brown and Scott Lyons, director of photography Susie Theis and Jalbert Productions, will show as part of Park City Film’s Twilight Drive-In at Utah Olympic Park at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 20.
The origin of the documentary came when Lyons, Theis and Brown, a Park City-based ski racer and the publisher of skiracing.com, formerly known as Ski Racing Magazine, began creating a web series for POC, a company that develops snow- and bicycle-sport safety products, five years ago.
POC was a sponsor of Marco Sullivan, a former Olympic downhill racer, and it approached skiracing.com to do a YouTube series about the brotherhood and camaraderie within the American men’s downhill team, Brown said.
“With that first episode, we began talking with more and more athletes from different generations, and saw there was an amazing story about this conscious effort to pass down their knowledge from generation to generation,” she said. “Marco’s Instagram handle is @americandownhiller, so he’s sort of the one who created this brand and identity for the team.”
After producing seven more YouTube episodes, the team was contacted again by POC last fall to pitch an idea about a full-length documentary.
“They suggested we take something from all the episodes and put them together in a more all-encompassing story,” Brown said.
Brown, Theis and Lyons worked with Joe Jay Jalbert and his son Jay with Jalbert Productions to get some of the historic footage.
“Joe Jay Jalbert is kind of a legend in the ski world,” Brown said. “He was Robert Redford’s stuntman, and downhill racer and has filmed the sport for a long time. And a lot of historic footage you will see in the film is theirs, and they took the film to the next level.”
Adding to the Jalberts’ historic footage, are images culled from the Ski Racing Media archives at the University of Utah.
“We have this incredible photo gallery that I think is one of the most extensive ski-racing photo archives in the world,” Brown said. “I’ve been really wanting to utilize this. Many of the photos you see in the film are from these archives.”
One of the filmmakers’ goals was to find ways to interview at least one athlete from each generation of downhill skiing’s 50-year history, Brown said.
“This project was a labor of love, and we didn’t have a huge budget for our little team to travel around the country to interview everybody we wanted,” she said. “I remember one of our editors who was heading to Vermont for a wedding reached out to see if there any dowhillers in the area who would be able to do an interview.”
During that trip, the team was able to interview Eric Keck, one of the big downhill names from the 1980s.
Unfortunately, Keck passed away in July at the age of 52, before the film was completed, Brown said.
“That made us more grateful that we were really glad to include him in the film,” she said.
Through the low-key process of utilizing weddings and other weekend excursions to land interviews, the production team made friends with many athletes and their families, according to Brown.
“We would sleep on their couches and do the interviews the next day,” she said. “It was really fun.”
Once the interviews wrapped, Brown and Theis began editing. In the process they took apart the YouTube videos and pieced things together.
“The goal we had was to tell these amazing stories before they get forgotten,” Brown said. “There are a lot of people like Buddy Werner, who was one of the first Americans to win the big classic races on a global level before the founding of the World Cup, and Bill Johnson who showed what the next generation could do, paved the way for those, such as Steven Nyman, who are having success today.”
The first athlete they showed the finished film to was former World Cup downhill racer A.J. Kitt.
“He was the one who helped me get in touch with a lot of the interviews,” Brown said. “I remember seeing him cry as he watched the film. And that only showed us more how important this film is. It is important to keep the sport visible, especially now.”
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