Consisting of “Show & Prove” (2006), “Believe” (2007) and “The Massive” (2008) Constantine Papanicolaou’s (“CP”) “Tanner Hall Trilogy” is fundamental to understanding not only the virtuoso level of skiing that Tanner Hall and his crew have achieved but to what has been accomplished in skiing in the first decade of the 21st Century. Without a doubt, these skiers have had a large role in developing what is now called “freeskiing”. It’s well-worth viewing all three in succession and since they total just over two hours it’s not an impossible task.
A sophisticated slow-focus opening with a bluesy, electronic score builds a serious tone as “Believe” opens up. Fitting because the serious skiing comes fast and furious as Tanner Hall, CR Johnson and Ian Provo go tree skiing at Mount Baker. The most glorious shots are the sights of Johnson just sending it in a way not even imaginable by most mortals, forget that 12 months earlier Johnson had been in a coma for 10 days and had to learn how to use his legs again. Soundtracked to a bangin’ dance hall track from Khari Kill, the spectacular footage makes you feel the chest deep snow.
Yet, in the next sequence, Johnson spills it out that his mental game is not in focus even if his physical skill is largely back. It’s an honest declaration and it reminds you that it takes guts as well as skill to pull off this level of skiing. He recognizes that he has to build and to do it he needs to go slowly and he needs to do that on his own. So, Johnson exits the project at this point (Johnson appears in a couple of terrific sequences in Matchstick’s “Seven Sunny Days”, filmed the same year as “Believe”). A couple of sublime sequences follow, one of some back-country ripping at Retallack with Kye Petersen and Dan Treadway and another with Callum Pettit (then 17 years old at the time) and Sean Pettit (14 at the time). They throw some spins in a school playground before heading to the back country to shred.
Hall, Anthony Boronowski and Ian Provo head to Niseko, Japan. Their footage of the skiing through the white birch trees looks surreal and ghostly and is made all the more intriguing because of the electro-pop stoner vibe of Karin Dreijer Andersson’s voice on Royksopp’s “What Else Is There” which is used as underscore. Hall’s skiing at this point is at the same level as Wayne Gretzky’s hockey when he was 24. His control and style are disciplined to the point of making double back flips look effortless. In the next sequence, the music delivers a compelling punch once more as Seth Morrison rejoins Hall and Boronowski to demonstrate how to huck off 80 footers, back-flipping no less. Underscored with Jedi Mind Tricks’ track “Razorblade Salvation”, the piece is one those classic ski movie sequences where the skiers make it all look very easy. I’ll just say one thing: don’t try this unless you are Seth Morrison.
The real visual stunner is up next as the boys head to Haines AK. CP opts for a darker processing that gives the white mountain snow a blue tinge. The effect is to make it look like the crew are skiing on another planet. His artful framing produces some great moments like when Morrison blitzes down a spine with two rushes of sluff racing down on either side of him.
At only 35 minutes, it’s unbelievable how satisfying “Believe” is. The skiing is masterful and graceful. Hall is not interviewed here; you only get a few comments from him that show his mental process prior to having gravity do its work. Hall lets the skiing do the talking and as he’s in every sequence, the skiing says a lot.
There are no rail or park sequences in “Believe” but the crew brings that mindset to the back country and the big mountains and delivers those types of moves in natural settings. In a way, it’s the best of both worlds, to be cliché for a minute. “Believe” makes it abundantly clear that Hall is something else on top of being a park skier, a discipline that he mastered and dominated during the 2000s. It’s ironic because at the same time this film was being made Hall was taking Gold in the X Games Half Pipe in January 2007 and at the US Open Half Pipe, a fact that is not even mentioned in the film. With the straight-ahead approach to the ski action genre (instead of the documentary approach used in “Show & Prove”) “Believe” is a distillation of the purest form of ski movie. It’s a real tribute then to “Believe” to see that it went on to win Movie of the Year, Best Male Performance for Hall and Best Line at the 2008 Powder Video Awards. By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail