Valhalla’s Epic Portland Premiere

A murky fall night in Port­land sets the stage for the city’s pre­miere of Val­hal­la, the Sweet­grass Pro­duc­tions crew’s lat­est film. Inside, it has just been screened to a packed crowd the Aladdin the­ater, and the col­lec­tive excite­ment is pal­pa­ble. Three of the Sweet­grass boys stand tall at the end of the stage, wel­com­ing ques­tions of any kind. A hand goes up, and Direc­tor Ben Stur­gulews­ki points to it. The man amid the view­ers ques­tions, aloud, what we’ve all been won­der­ing in our own heads: Whether or not Val­hal­la is a real place. “It’s a state of mind, man” Ben replies, with a smirk that means that answer is only part­ly true; the rest, we’ll nev­er know.

Sweet­grass Pro­duc­tions’ VALHALLA — Trail­er 2 from Sweet­grass Pro­duc­tions on Vimeo.

Val­hal­la is a work of art. It’s a ski film. It’s an alle­go­ry of the snow and of human nature. And Val­hal­la is — indeed — a state of mind, one that you can only get to by expe­ri­enc­ing the film for your­self. I sus­pect that every­one I was seat­ed with at the Port­land pre­miere had a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence, but I’m con­fi­dent that we all walked out of that the­ater a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent than when we walked in.

The nar­ra­tive of Val­hal­la is relat­able, and it pro­vides a sol­id anchor for the film as a whole. There are plen­ty of incred­i­ble, jaw-drop­ping ski and snow­board scenes (some that even defy log­ic itself), but these are held on the shoul­ders of the sto­ry (about a man dri­ven to redis­cov­er the “weight­less­ness of youth”) that car­ries the film to the very end. For skiers and non-skiers alike, this is a wel­come change to the ski porn films we’ve come accus­tomed to see­ing in the out­door indus­try. It’s no stretch to say that the film con­nects emo­tion­al­ly with its view­ers, which makes those beau­ti­ful seg­ments of pow­der an unde­ni­ably more ardent expe­ri­ence. And the crowd watch­ing wasn’t afraid to make them­selves heard; hoots, hollers and howls were part of the show, and part­ly respon­si­ble for such a unique pre­miere. Ben put it this way:

“Hav­ing done a great many shows in front of every sort of audi­ence, the shows we real­ly end up remem­ber­ing are the ones where peo­ple just lets loose and cheer and scream and howl. As we’re pre­sent­ing a more artis­tic aspect of ski-film­ing, often our crowds are very respect­ful, which is def­i­nite­ly won­der­ful and appre­ci­at­ed, and has its place — but when you’ve seen the film a mil­lion times like we have, soon­er or lat­er you find your­self watch­ing the audi­ence reac­tion more than the film. It’s so awe­some to hear peo­ple hoot and holler and bring an intense­ly live ener­gy expe­ri­ence to the whole thing. Every pub­lic view­ing is dif­fer­ent and makes you watch your own work in an entire­ly new light, and the Port­land show was just full of so many friends and fans all scream­ing togeth­er that it felt like a whole new film to us.”

Naked Ski and Snow­board Seg­ment from VALHALLA from Sweet­grass Pro­duc­tions on Vimeo.