From atop a dusty gear room shelf, a box full of memories sends a curious writer down the rabbit hole to The Collective’s third and final film.
“Here, take a look at these,” says Darren as he hands me two flat computer hardware boxes. They feel heavier than I expected. “We should probably get this stuff back to Shandro, it’s been here for about 10 years.”
Darren McCullough is a cinematographer and the head of post-production here at Anthill Films, where I started my new job about six months ago. And while looking to new projects is the only way forward for a film studio like Anthill, I’ve found that looking back on their past work is one of my job’s most rewarding perks. Like opening this box…
I lift the lid to discover a pile of old mountain bike magazines, some that publish to this day, most that have long since been buried in the ever-growing cemetery of print publications. On top of the pile of magazines rests a plastic case with the words “1998 Winter X-Games. Andrew Shandro Clips” written in black sharpie. I open this case to find an oddly-shaped cassette. “Holy shit, it’s on Betamax,” I say to out loud to no one in particular, deflated that watching this footage may prove impossible without a relic analog player that lost the video format war to VHS more than 30 years ago.
Thumbing through the magazines, I find various articles from Andrew Shandro’s competitive (and later freeride) mountain biking heyday. It’s the first time I’ve read or seen many of these pages, but a couple of the images seem strangely familiar. Then I remembered. These images made a brief appearance in Shandro’s segment in Seasons
, the third and final film by The Collective. For those not familiar or don’t recall, The Collective was a coalition of filmmakers, athletes and photographer Sterling Lorence that produced three mountain bike movies distinct from other media houses at the time; The Collective
(2006) and finally Seasons
in 2008. When producer and co-founder Jamie Houssian decided to take his career in a different direction, it was the remaining members of The Collective, filmmakers Darcy Wittenburg, Darren McCullough and Colin Jones, that teamed up with executive producer Ian Dunn to form Anthill Films in 2009.
I crave more of these treasures, not wanting this nostalgic journey to end. Digging deeper I realize that that 2018 actually marks the 10 year anniversary of Seasons
, the final flagship title from The Collective (full disclosure: Though I hadn’t watched it in a few years, Seasons
holds a special place in my mountain bike heart and is still very much my favourite action sports movie of all time). So I’m curious to learn more, not just from the random artifacts I find lying around the office, but from the people who actually made the movie. What set it apart back in 2008? Can it still stand on its own two feet 10 years and a YouTube generation later? To get answers, I made a list of the crew and athletes who worked on Seasons
(plus a few I thought might have been influenced by it in their careers) and picked up the phone. Here’s what I found out:
“We thought the ‘seasons’ angle was a cool theme to take the viewer through and that it would create some unique visual opportunities,” says Houssian, who heralds Seasons
as the proudest work of his film-making years. “I think what helped us do some innovative things back then was to look outside the action sports film world a little bit. At the time that world was pretty narrow, so we looked to a lot of other sources of inspiration outside of the action sports bubble, whether it was TV commercials, music videos, stuff like that.”
Thomas Vanderham, Steve Peat, Matt Hunter, Cam McCaul, Andrew Shandro, Darren Berrecloth and then-grom Stevie Smith. Rather than the usual laundry list of exotic locations and rad segments, The Collective followed these athletes throughout the winter, spring summer and fall of 2007. In their homes, on the competitive circuit and over months-long field projects. It gave a deeper insight into the lives of these riders; their stages of training, competing, celebrating (or in some cases, failing) and the simple act of riding for themselves. And while the action depicted a lot of that, it was the on-camera interviews where I felt more connected with these professional mountain bikers than ever before. Remember, this is years before you could follow them all on Instagram.
“Part of my goal (during filming for Seasons) was to explore my own limits in terms of the size of jumps I was attempting,” recalls Vanderham. “Of all the jumps I hit in that segment, that one (where I ran out of gears) was the first. I remember cranking through all my gears and then taking one more pedal on the way in and there was nothing there. I cleared it, but at that point I went home and threw on a couple extra teeth on the front chainring.”
For the record, the shot that made the film clocked him at 78 kilometers per hour on the run-in.
Reminiscing about the golden days of lycra and flat cross-country tracks of the ‘90s always puts a smile on my face, but it was the segment shot at Shandro’s local North Shore trails that brought home the reason why so many of us ride mountain bikes in the first place. He exemplified this in one of the most powerful quotes in the film: "If I can find a time in the day to get out for a ride, even if it’s for an hour, then that turns into a pretty good day."
There is, of course, a gaping hole in this article - the hole left by Stevie Smith. We lost Canada’s most successful downhill mountain biker in 2016 to an off-road motorcycle accident, and if he was still here today I’m sure he would have so much to say about his first feature film appearance and the gratitude he felt towards his mom helping him achieve his dream of “one day having a Canadian stand on the podium next to Sam Hill and Steve Peat.”
Seeing these riders - hailing from a gamut of disciplines - shred through the berms on Karate Monkey (and the yet-to-open-trail Ninja Cougar) made me want to do nothing other than ride the Whistler Bike Park with my friends. The A-Line train made me want to learn how to whip. And still to this day I’ll attempt (unsuccessfully) to boost the bridge like Vanderham. The Cat Empire’s song “Two Shoes” will forever be burned into my brain as the soundtrack to misty Garbanzo laps in late September.
“(The Whistler segment) showed the essence of what we all hope to achieve on our mountain bikes," says Hennessey Turenne. "You’re with your friends, nothing else matters, it’s complete bliss. It was the climax of the film. An audience can only take so much emotionally powerful storytelling, so in turn, you often have to release them with levity. (The Collective) timed that levity so well, they created the tension within the film then released it with that segment. The audience was ready to smile.”
Happy anniversary, Seasons