Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bode Miller: The Journey Continues

I am known to write long letters. It's okay. Not everybody reads them, but if you can and want to I'd like it, because I've got a story to tell. And It's about an adventure.

I began a journey ten years ago. The start of that journey is one of those moments etched in us. I was heading toward a tollbooth and heard a press report of Bode Miller coming back from Japan and the 1998 Winter Olympics. That was the beginning. I would follow Bode to the next Olympics in Park City (2002) and see what happens. And find meaning in the journey. That's the essence of any project and the essence of how we learn as we take steps forward.

And the journey continues today. The best journeys of my life have been forward and backward: new experiences that build on old ones. We go away to learn about who we are, where we come from. And so for the story of Bode Miller.

a preview from the soon to be released Bode Miller: The Early Years

Bode's grandparents introduced my parents. It was the 1950's and they were each on their own adventures. They found themselves at the Tamarack Ski Lodge. My mom worked there. As did her older sister, Nancy. My dad was a lodger. They were part of that Bohemian gang, like Kerouac groupies, not looking for a club, but just a place to rest and BE. To ski and BE. To live life as it's meant to BE. Jack Kenney, Bode's grandfather would write in the bathtub. And call up Groucho Marx on New Year's Eve. And Peg Kenney, Bode's grandmother, would keep the place from going completely belly-up, and would ski like nobody else. She was a medal-winning skier and could have been in world competition, had things, timing, fate been a bit different. She came east from Squaw Valley, taken in by Jack Kenney and his big, funny ideas.

Jack and Peg sold land to my mom and dad, an acre from the 400 Jack had bought with shoeboxes full of coins. Peg would later tell Jo, her daughter, who was busy idealizing a commune on the beautiful and harsh land that you want to have people visit and LEAVE, and that if they stay you've got to deal with all their junk. My parents came up for weekends and then left. But they loved Jack and Peg and the world they inhabited. And that was true for a suburb-full of others for whom the mountains represented the life they wanted to live. You make your money in the city, raise kids in the suburbs, but come alive in the mountains. And, as kids, the mountains were where we truly played.

So I've returned to the mountains to find out about the life my parents started. I always wanted to make a film about Jack and Peg and the world they wanted to create and did create. The Beat generation of Jack & Peg led to the hippies of Bode's parents and uncles. Each family member created a house or two on the land, made a stake in the place. Some were stick houses built from the trees they cut. Some were rehabs and patches of the buildings that were there for generations. But everybody had a stake in the land.

And I thought a documentary about these folks would be very cool. It seemed to me it would be Brother's Keeper (the 1992 documentary), without the murder and with smart people. And 15 people would see it. So I let it sit on the shelf as I made films about people with developmental disability and a passion for the blues, which 150 (actually more than 150,000) people wold see.

And that's when I was driving down that highway and reminded of how good Bode was on a pair of skis. And how exciting. And how places are good backdrops, but we need outward places to go and things to do to know why place is important. Because place and character need to be linked together. And the next Olympics would be Salt Lake City, 2002, a good American place, the destination for a good American story of following your dreams. And the wacky idea of how to get there. And the little understood sport of ski racing, with its many gates and great speed and clock ticking. Now we're talking! We're talking audience here! And EUROPEANS. Millions of Europeans. Addicts to ski racing. Feed 'em with a funny young, brash American. The little I knew about Bode back then – I was off at college and other pursuits as he was growing up – did add up to one thing: this kid is interesting. And he just might be as good as he seems to think he is.

So I spoke to Bode and he said sure, let's go, and thus began a journey.

That's the journey I continue today. Part of it relates to what will happen to Bode, will he stand or fall as a skier? What's the line between person, character, celebrity and circumstance? What is success and failure and how do we measure it? Will he realize his potential as a skier and what is that potential? Is it creating a turn that nobody has ever made before? Is it being fastest down on a particular day? Is it overcoming the obstacles in front of you, skiing on one ski if one ski is given? Or is simply a moment of defying gravity, like each of us as we come down the slope, gliding on a cloud of snow? What's the meaning of this journey – in this journey – following the path of one of the most remarkable athletes of our time?

I still get up early to see live timing of Bode's races, wanting to know how he's doing, if he's okay at the end of the run. People have lost their lives, lost their limbs in this unforgiving sport. And every time I get nervous knowing that I shouldn't be nervous, that I have NOTHING to do with the outcome. But that's why Bode's journey is my journey. I am – many of us are – connected to what happens to others. Bode's performance connects to each of us, to the best and worst we can do. To our mistakes and triumphs.

I consider this the final leg of my active journey on this project. I'll see if Bode goes to Val D'Isere and what happens there, if he continues on to Whistler.

But with this site and through a careful re-sifting of the 400 hours of taped history of the last ten years I'll be creating a "reverse blog" that will go back in time as Bode continues forward towards whatever might be next for him. I'll be reflecting on the journey that I've taken and post short clips from along the way. From the ring-side seat in 2002 as Bode delivered one of the greatest slalom performances in the history of ski racing, to the scene in my kitchen as my son, 3-years-old at the time, and I saw Bode go, on a single run of slalom, from behind to winning by 1 1/2 seconds.

I'll also find plenty of shots of Bode working out nearly naked (see the clip above and stay through the end, if that's your interest).

And we'll be giving you a new cut, for the first time a cut that will be released in Europe with subtitles in German, French and Italian (bravisimo!)!

So stay tuned. You know the location. But just in case it's FLYINGDOWNHILL.COM

-Bill Rogers

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