“Are your desires to achieve the goal? Do they outweigh the fear that you feel to get there?”
Though they’ve been around for a while in various iterations, from retro movies with big hair and garish fashion sense in the 1980s to the expensive feature-length globe-trotting films shot of recent years, sitting down to watch a ski documentary is still fun. However, one that forces you to think about something is even better. While it's nice to see lots of really cool skiing and snowboarding footage, there needs to be a spotlight on another star: the story of an athlete, an examination of the sport or a look into an important issue facing it.
Directed by Bjarne Salén, the documentary ‘Finding The Line’ follows two female extreme skiers and siblings from Melbourne: Australian Olympian and X Games Slopestyle champion, Anna Segal, and her Freeride World Tour big mountain ski sister, Nat.
We are introduced to the women while they’re living and training in Whistler, Canada. They set out to face and better understand some of their deepest fears. After recovering from a bad knee injury, Nat is anxious about taking risks while skiing. Meanwhile, Anna is afraid that she will never reach her full potential as an athlete.
'FINDING THE LINE' TEASER TRAILER
They deal with these obstacles very differently. Nat plots her course carefully, pointing out and avoiding risk wherever possible, whereas Anna ignores her fear (she wants to push herself and not ski “dad turns”), without always weighing up the consequences. Neither approach is completely effective, and so ‘Finding The Line’ sees the very likable pair pool their strength to overcome these mental obstacles and find the delicate balance between staying in their comfort zone and taking too much risk.
As the women prepare for a challenging ski trip to Alaska (“the equivalent of the north shore of Hawaii for surfing”), they also seek out the experience and knowledge of scientific experts, performance coaches, and other elite athletes (like skier Mike Douglas). There are also cool, zen professionals, such as mountain guide Giulia Monego and ski mountaineer Mike Hill, who memorably holds up a hand missing a finger while recounting how important it is not to underestimate the environment. “The absence of fear leads to mistakes,” he intones with an unwavering blue-eyed gaze. In the Alaskan mountains, where consequential ski lines test even the best in the world, fear and doubt (or a total lack of both) can be a fatal combination.
Shot in Australia, British Columbia, Alaska, and the gorgeous Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in France, ‘Finding the Line’ contains some stunning environmental footage: snowy vistas so beautiful they almost resemble alien landscapes and slopes with faces so steep that they can only be traversed via rappel and crampons to dig into the ice. Filmed using a mixture of handheld cameras, helmet cams and drones, the scenery is nothing less than breathtaking. The mix of filming techniques is effective at showing the viewer the hazards of skiing, like when a skier can’t visualise their “line” of descent or the way Alaska’s deep powder and steep terrain add up to constantly moving snow called “sloughs” - mini avalanches that can knock you off your feet if you don’t have a plan.
There are also cool, zen professionals, such as mountain guide Giulia Monego and ski mountaineer Mike Hill, who memorably shows off a hand missing a finger while recounting how important it is not to underestimate the environment. “The absence of fear leads to mistakes”, he intones with an unwavering blue-eyed gaze.
The film aims to explore our attitudes surrounding fear and to dispel stereotypes of how particular people (even lifelong athletes in extreme sports) should deal with the emotion - fear should be recognised and approached, not stifled by guilt or viewed as weakness. But the film needed a tighter conclusion to its narrative arc, particularly in the last 15 minutes - we don’t actually see the watershed moments when Anna or Nat overcame their respective trepidations or arrived at the realisations needed to help them progress with the skiing careers. Instead, we get a few “well, I guess…” and “kinda…” reflections to quickly wrap their story up before the sisters are dropped on a mountain top via helicopter to ski down another jaw-dropping slope.
Best viewed on the biggest screen you can find, ‘Finding The Line’ is a sports documentary that raises some interesting points, not just about the mentality of athletes competing in an environment that constantly deals with fear and risk (requiring external and internal strength), but also the ways in which we can push ourselves past our own negative responses and personal barriers.