Movie Review: The Search for Freedom

I generally find sportspeople are not well suited to explaining just what it is about their sport they love.
They try, but it always seems to boil down to unimaginative responses such as this gem from pro-snowboarder Annie Boulanger on why she’s so obsessed with boarding:
“It’s like breathing. Like the best breath you can take.”
Or the rockclimbing fraternity discussing the wonder that is hanging off a boulder:
“You’re part of the cliff.”
Really? Fascinating stuff guys, do go on.
They try, these elite athletes, they’re just not always very…expressive.

The Search for Freedom, from director Jon Long, is no exception.
There are plenty of mumbling surfers, rock climbers who can’t quite remember what the question was, and if I hear one more extreme athlete tell me they ‘just knew’ they wanted to be a pro paraskier at 8 years of age I will scream. Mostly out of jealousy.

But there is the occasional flash of real insight, where the interviewees finally manage to articulate exactly how it feels to bomb down a steep ski run, hitting perfect turns on a bluebird day with their favourite song blaring in their ears.
Or finally, finally conquer that giant wave.
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If their words won’t convince you, the photography will. Every shot is slick, seamlessly edited and fully immersive.

The connection with nature, with the natural environment around you, is another huge part of this documentary, and another reason the lack of in-depth commentary didn’t bother me.

Watching 2 minutes of surfing or 5 minutes of skiing takes me to my happy place far more quickly than anyone mouthing off about it could do in half an hour. Long may overindulge in his sweeping panoramas and helicopter flyovers – I guess some people may find them a bit overdone – but the only time my attention wandered was when there was talking going on.

Luckily the director takes a light hand with their quotes, there are never more than a few minutes of exposition before its back to the action, something many sports documentaries fail to manage well.

The Search for Freedom starts off with a simply fascinating look at the historical background of the older sports such as surfing, mountain biking and skiing, with lots of footage to back it up, such as Warren Miller’s first feature film in 1949.

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This is followed by a fantastic ye olde outtakes and accidents section that made me literally laugh out loud.

The footage then plunges you headfirst into a large range of extreme (or the extreme side of) sports such as surfing, more skiing and snowboarding, sailboarding, rock climbing, skateboarding and long boarding.
Interspersed with the brilliant cinematography are some charming background snippets from people like Warren Miller (again, skiing documentary director extraordinaire), Bob McKnight (a founder of Quiksilver), rock climber Ron Kauk, mountain-bike pioneer Gary Fisher, skateboarder Danny Way, snowboarders Annie Boulanger and Jeremy Jones.

Freedom is definitely the main theme of this documentary.
In fact, the whole movie should come with a warning:
Danger – may make you quit your job. If in midst of mid-life crisis Do Not Watch.

The accounts of how broke young surfers straight out of high school managed to make their way to the beach every day, meanwhile avoiding the dreaded office drone career path of their uncool parents, means that there are plenty of comments about stiffs in metal coffins driving to work.

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Or Glenn Singleman, a Sydney based emergency doctor/legendary BASE jumper and wingsuit flyer:
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Daydreaming of a life free from office work and drudgery may be a trite and overused subject, but it’s still a siren call this middle aged responsible adult finds hard to resist.

Towards the final half hour the subject turns to The Fear.
Going outside your comfort zone, pushing your boundaries and learning something about yourself in the process.
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It’s a timely reminder.

Starting with some cracking footage of mountain bike riders exploring the ‘made’ natural trails of backwoods Canada, tweaked to provide more thrills and spills than a skate park ever could, in the finale there is a stunning montage of chilling accidents that serve to remind us of the danger these athletes are in when they attempt to test the limits of their sport.152391825

Skiers tumbling half a kilometre down a snow filled crevasse, bouncing off rocks, surfers being swallowed whole by the giant maw of a 50 foot wave, cyclists pedalling furiously at empty air as they tumble inevitably towards the dirt track, their bikes spinning lazily behind them.
Long finishes his series of cautionary warnings with a shot of a free climber whose only back up plan is a parachute.
Guaranteed to make your palms sweat, this is no LOL fail video, but simply a reminder of the lengths to which some people are willing to go, to be freed from the limits of their minds and bodies.

The Search for Freedom has it’s best moments though, in it’s wonderfully dreamy and immersive cinematography, amazingly intimate action shots that somehow manage to echo such fleeting moments as being in the zone during a great downhill ski run.
That perfect moment where all the turns are effortless and flawless, you are in a complete state of flow, connected not only to your skis but the mountain as well.

Hmmm, maybe those rocklimbers had it right after all…

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