REEL Review – In Gora (2018)

Director: Andy Collet | Runtime: 44mins | Documentary

Modern nomadic couple Val and Tim renovated an American school bus to travel around Europe in a very eco-centric lifestyle with their daughter, Fenna, and their Great Swiss Lewis. In this short feature, a group of skiers and snowboard riders join them for a 6000km, month long journey through Austria, Slovenia, Macedonia and more, discussing their eco-friendly attitudes and the slopes in Europe.

The run time of this freely available film may be up for debate, as the definition of a feature length varies between who you ask. One of the most commonly excepted, though, is The Academy’s of at least 40 minute – therefore, this eco-based documentary comes as the first feature directed by Andy Collet, whose works creating short films ranges from mini-action-based documentaries to promotional material for a range of brands – In Gora comes as a strange blend between the two.

The story itself is interesting though not completely original – there’s a number of beats that feel well tread in other documentaries and features. The roadtrip is twofold, to snowboard and ski, and to experience different cultures through meeting the locals, as a way to discuss environmental issues. We’re introduced to the family who renovated the bus first, about as eco-friendly as they come their aim is to minimise their impact on the planet; waterless compost toilet, solar panels and off-setting the footprint of the bus itself by donating to a non-profit to make themselves carbon neutral. Aside from this though, there’s little to make each of the nomads no more than a one dimensional character, learning hardly anything about who they are.

Tim provides narration as there’s essentially no interviews, just conversations caught on camera, but it’s not written particularly well – heavy handed in exposition without much exploration into the themes raised, the shorter length hampers the depth of In Gora. The film was sponsored by Picture Organic Clothing, a notion that becomes quite apparent the more time passes as the focus becomes less about the nomadic lifestyle and the lengthy journey these people will go to find better slopes, it switches to emphasise the green lifestyle with a lack of finesse clearing stating that this is a much better way to live, and the narration is almost passive aggressive in how it informs you of their life choices.

It’s during these sequences that you feel the passion of the people we’re following, and the missed opportunity of a much better film with better balance and depth of it’s subject.

There are positive elements to enjoy though, as Collet’s direction of the downhill action is exciting and well shot, there’s beautiful sweeping landscapes with the riders skillfully taking on the challenge of each location, shifting between drone footage and handheld lower on the slopes. It’s during these sequences that you feel the passion of the people we’re following, and the missed opportunity of a much better film with better balance and depth of it’s subject without feeling like an advertisement for eco-friendly lifestyle. There’s touches of spirituality with nature – the word ‘gora’ is translated into mountain or forest depending on the language, but has much stronger links to the energy released by nature and the relationships between people and the natural world around them. This is barely explored in the film however, and is unfortunately more interesting than the narrative we’re presented instead.

Along with the more spiritual side, there’s flashes of a more compelling take on the eco-centric life our subjects live. At each stop we meet the locals to the area, and our bus riders get to know each of them, but it’s little more than a montage. The final stop at Montenegro is the most engaging as we meet a group of passionate enthusiasts who created the Bogicevica Ski and Snowboard club, with essentially no support they climb for hours without lifts and lack proper boarding and skiing equipment, all to enjoy a 15 minute run downhill. It’s a unique blend of the dedication of the winter sport and the eco lifestyle all self taught, a true testament to the passion they have.

There’s moments of a more interesting and exciting narrative but it’s mostly lost in a minimal runtime and a very biased direction. Though this doesn’t make the film inherently bad, the juxtaposition of the two provides a glimpse into what could have been, and the reality leaves a sour taste because of this. In Gora is a prime example that a great cause and good intentions doesn’t make for a quality film, and that the competency of filmmaking shouldn’t be disregarded.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Author: Phil Wilson

I watch and make films.

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