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FIRST DESCENT

SYNOPSIS:
As a sport, snowboarding has been practised by Americans on the East and West Coasts for around 30 years - but only recently has it become more widely popular in the US, thanks in particular to the success of the country's snowboarding team in the Winter Olympics in 2002. This documentary charts the development of snowboarding since its inception, focusing on five snowboarders of different generations who set off together to the Alaskan mountains in search of more challenging, previously unknown terrain.

Review by Jake Wilson:
There aren't many surprises in First Descent's short history of snowboarding, narrated by Henry Rollins in booming tones that might be better used to warn of the dangers of international Communism, or sell furniture. Snowboarding, we learn, was an outgrowth of the surf, skateboarding and punk subcultures of the 70s; the anti-authority ethos of pioneers brought them afoul of traditional skiers; these days, the sport has entered the mainstream - and the Olympics - attracting increased commercial sponsorship and causing a certain amount of angst ("Have I sold my soul?" one interviewee wonders).

In outline, the story is familiar, even if the subculture is not - and the same might be said for the contrived non-drama which makes up the other half of this documentary. Five top snowboarders of varying ages, backgrounds and abilities (there's even a woman) set off for an intensive bonding-exercise-cum-boot-camp in the Alaskan mountains. For better or worse, everyone is too respectful and focused for Big Brother hijinks to occur - it's camaraderie and good vibrations all the way, courtesy in particular of group elder Shawn Farmer, a bearded cut-up who still seems ready to party like it's 1986.

The rest of the film is mainly stunts, which all look rather similar to anyone without a practised eye; there are some interesting asides about how snowboarders automatically "see" mountains as potential obstacle courses, but this vision is only occasionally communicated by the visual style, which tends to the banal in its use of swooping helicopter shots and rhythmic cutting to add excitement. Watching these guys weaving down rocky, near-vertical mountainsides, with gusts of powdered snow flying in their wake like sea foam, I sat there thinking: if this had been an IMAX film, it could have been even more spectacular. It could also have been forty-five minutes shorter.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

FIRST DESCENT (M)
(US, 2005)

CAST: Documentary featuring Shawn Farmer, Terje Haakonsen, Nick Peralta, Hannah Teter, Shaun White

NARRATION: Henry Rollins

PRODUCER: Kemp Curly, Kevin Harrison

DIRECTOR: Kemp Curly, Kevin Harrison

SCRIPT: Not credited

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Not credited

EDITOR: Jon Philpot

PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 9, 2006

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Madman

VIDEO RELEASE: July 26, 2006







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