Helicopters in faraway mountains used to be a status symbol in freeride films. Melissa Brandner traveled the local mountains by splitboard when directing her award-winning film “Through Darkness.”
In Tromsø in northern Norway, the sun sets below the horizon on November 27 and doesn’t rise again until January 15. Even then, one only gets a small glimpse of it.Melissa Brandner moved here from the UK in 2019 while working on a PhD in marine ecology. But another reason was the surrounding mountains – Tromsø has hundreds of rugged mountain peaks nearby. Melissa Brandner has been competing in snowboarding on the Freeride World Qualifier Tour for several years. Now, with her splitboard underfoot, she could combine her studies with plenty of off-piste snowboarding. The move to Tromsø also gave birth to a number of film ideas. In fall 2018, she was awarded a scholarship for young artists and after producing the short film “Roll and Ride,” she produced and made her debut directing “Through Darkness” alongside partner Manuela Mandl. The film has toured adventure and mountain film festivals and won several awards, and this winter it will reach a broader audience via an international streaming platform for documentaries (platform is yet to be announced at the time of writing).“Through Darkness” is a story about the polar night and how darkness can be turned into something positive.
”When I moved to the Arctic, I have to admit that I was afraid of the dark,” says Melissa Brandner.
“But then I saw another side of it. The beauty of the Arctic night.”
The film follows a group of five snowboarders including Melissa Brandner and Manuela Mandl as they explore mountain sides and steep chutes in the light of headlamps. But the film is also about inner darkness, where the athletes talk about the challenges they have experienced.
“I myself ended up in a depression after two serious concussions,” says Melissa Brandner.
“Nature and snowboarding have been a big part of my way back.”
Green filming in white snow
Skiing and snowboarding films have traditionally been an orgy of helicopter lifts to steep mountain faces. As part of the Protect Our Winters generation, Melissa Brandner is trying to reduce her ecological ski tracks. Like other freeride films in recent years, the production has taken place with the least possible environmental impact.
“We shared one car and all of the sites were within 40 minutes from the city. Our food was either homegrown or dumpster dived. All of the headlamps and camera gear were powered by hydroelectricity. The editors and musicians were all local, so we walked or biked to any meetings or took them remotely.”
“Our sport is low impact on the environment because we walk up the mountain, so no snowmobiles, helicopters or ski lifts. Finally, the emissions that we couldn’t avoid we calculated and offset.”
The next film project is called “Fueled by Nature” and is close to Melissa Brandner’s research.
“It will explore the possibility of using seaweed as a renewable energy resource, for food and transport. This project will follow a team of athletes on an expedition in Northern Norway. They will have a local sustainable diet with seaweed as an energy source and be transported by seaweed biofuel. The idea: If humans who are at the extremes of energy demands can push the limits with seaweed as an energy source, then surely anyone can.”
Photos: DAVID SCHNABEL & ISAK DALSFELT
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