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November 10, 2006
Similar to skate and surf legend turned cameraman Stacy Peralta, who delivered the award-winning documentaries Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) and Riding Giants (2004), The Collective - a diverse group comprised of two visionary film makers, mountain biking's top riders, and the most respected fat tire photographer - have turned an artful lens on non-traditional sports. But while the films put together by The Collective are certainly documents, they are not documentaries. Nor are they of the overly dry, competition-centric, machismo-heavy ilk of sports films (and mountain bike flicks in particular) of the past. Top-tier athletes in X-Games style sports have never had a reputation for being all that cultured, but there is an undeniably artistic value in The Collective's films. Part of that je ne sais quoi can be credited to the mechanics of The Collective's process - much was made of their decision to shoot their first, The Collective, entirely on high-quality 16mm film - but unlike yo-dude-high-five staples like the New World Disorder and Kranked series before them, The Collective's footage benefits from actual cinematography. There is truly art in their film; consider the group the Spike Jonze of action sports.

Skilled riders and amazing scenery provide for natural camera tricks. [photos by Sterling Lorence]

The Collective's 2004 eponymous debut featured a bucket-load of complicated and highly choreographed sequences that exhibited a previously unheard of level of flow. That flow, The Collective's X-factor, allowed intensely detailed shots involving crane booms, zip lines, helmet cams, and slow motion sequences to drift by with a deceptive naturalness. The resulting footage rendered some of cycling's most difficult maneuvers and lines - massive gap jumps, insane wall rides, and break-neck descents on rail-thin singletrack - in an almost effortless light. An experienced and modestly accomplished cross-country rider in my own right, the rides in The Collective, as well as their second film, Roam, are so superbly delivered that while watching I constantly find myself considering the possibility that I could pull them off, even though more than a decade of riding has provided clearly painted boundaries on my skill set. The degree to which the riders - a jaw-dropping collection of the world's best: Darren Berrecloth, Wade Simmons, Tyler Morland, Steve Romaniuk, Ryan Leech, Thomas Vanderham, et cetera - make such films possible can hardly be underestimated, but the riders have all loaned their bikes and bodies out for other flicks. As amazing as the athletes are, they are not what make Roam and its predecessor seem so effortless. The Collective simply make the impossible look easy.

Aside from the artistic flourishes of the cameramen, one of the key elements in The Collective was the scenery. The first time out the group mixed things up with sessions from the arid slopes of the Utah desert to the lush red and green curves of Hawaii, and from the Ewok-esque freeride parks of British Columbia's misty North Shore to the streets of Portland, Oregon. Roam takes the idea of varied terrain to the next level, with the idea of the journey as its connecting thread. Many of the same riders return from The Collective, with the addition of a few newcomers like Ryder Kasprick, Steve Peat, and Nathan Rennie. There are the requisite shots from traditional knobby mecca like Moab, Utah, but Roam goes off from there, shooting segments from the post-Cold War streets of Eastern Europe to desert expanses where referring to Moab as a "mecca" would be outright blasphemy.

The directors and their 16mm cameras on location in Prague.

"To roam is to search for something new, on local trails in your hometown, or halfway around the world in a place you've never been," proclaims the film's opening voice-over, conjuring up the simplistic truth that in the world of The Collective, and the thousands of cyclists their films speak to, there is only a rider, a bike, and a place to put rubber to the Earth. Roam kicks off in familiar freeride territory - Darren Berrecloth gracefully navigating the picturesque and storied rainforest trails of the North Shore, but after a short stop at the equally storied Whistler Bike Park the crew jumps to the Czech Republic for a run through the ancient and newly revitalized city of Prague with trials wunderkind Ryan Leach, who proceeds to manhandle everything from rail yards to trees in city parks. A poster child for the many ways in which "mountain biking" has become a misnomer, Leech is a joy to watch, executing dead-stop gap springs and on-a-dime twists with a nonchalance that is hard to believe and that even the artful lens of The Collective can't cast as remotely plausible for the average rider. From a snippet of competition footage in Idaho's Sawtooth range to vacation tours in North Africa and back to the interior of British Columbia, as hokey as it might sound, Roam explores the inner journeys of mountain biking as much as it does the miles traveled.

I don't know that I'd feel comfortable bombing through a village in Morocco on a $3000 bike when the country's average annual per capita income is only $2500, but The Collective crew don't seem to be phased by it as they blaze through centuries-old enclaves as scores of kids doomed to a life without expensive hobbies look on. There's also a priceless bit at Jordie Lunn's house, where his dad gives an abbreviated rundown of the path from a couple of BMX mounds in the yard to a family-owned excavator and a property full of dirt jumps as Lunn gives a Down Syndrome-sounding giggle and sharpens a stick with a knife. The cultural and racial homogeny of cycling, and mountain biking in particular, is often hard to swallow for people with a truly open world-view, but there's at least a peripheral sense that The Collective serve up a bit of de facto ambassadorship under the banner of freeriding just by bothering to take a time out from groomed resort trails and catch air in a place like Morocco. Of course given the current projects of Westerners in the Arab world, any white guy bombing drops instead of dropping bombs has got to be considered progress.

Like The Collective before it, Roam's only notable drawback is its soundtrack which, drawing on cringingly mixtape-friendly tunes for the chain wallet set from the likes of Boy Sets Fire, really won't impress anyone other than Red Bull-chugging lugheads and doesn't really fit with the non-yuk-yuk vibe of The Collective's footage any better than the racket on their first film did. Although I personally can't stand having a primary sense disconnected from the world around me while riding, I know plenty of guys who ride with portable music players and a few of them blast similar, pulse-pumping music when ripping it up. But Roam isn't riding, and I'd consider it to be less about lighting a fire under someone's couch/ass and getting them to ride and more about inspiring contemplation on the two-wheeled world and viewing the sport through a different light. As far as action sports movies go, The Collective and Roam are virtual art-house films, so I have a hard time understanding why a sweeping vista shot on quality film needs to have chord-driven emo songs smeared all over it. Sure, a Beirut song from Gulag Orkestar would have been tough to sync up with Leech's antics in Prague, but some Explosions In the Sky or Godspeed You! Black Emperor would be a perfect match and a far stronger artistic statement for any one of Roam's segments. I guess librarian rock just doesn't Do the Dew.

The Collective's sonic tastes probably won't change soon, and aside from the always ubiquitous sponsorship logos - which one could hardly beef with, as they've no promise of box office sales to bankroll production costs - there is little to find fault with in Roam. Those minor annoyances are easily offset by Roam's bonus features, which include a "making of" documentary, a slide show of Sterling Lorence's amazing photography, and three best-of type segments compiling money shots under the tags "Air," "Singletrack," and of course "Crashes." Because let's face it, the only things more entertaining than dizzying at-speed helmet cam footage from the North Shore is watching a dude case it on a dirt jump or eat a helmet full of red dirt after over-rotating a 360-degree twist. Don't worry, no freeriders were killed in the making of Roam, so there's sure to be plenty of beautiful, groundbreaking, and awe-inspiring footage to look forward to from The Collective.

SEE ALSO: www.thecollectivefilm.com
SEE ALSO: www.sterlinglorence.com

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Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.

See other articles by Eric J Herboth.

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