Another winter in paradise

A Q&A with snowboard filmmaker Justin Hostynek

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008

In the opening segment of Absinthe Films' latest movie, "Ready," the logos of snowboard companies appear as graffiti on concrete walls as snowboarders do tricks over them, while banjo music by Bert Jansch plays in the background. Banjo music is unusual for a snowboard movie, but not unusual for filmmaker Justin Hostynek, who has always pushed up against the cutting edge of snowboard filmmaking.

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Photo By Scott Sullivan
Photo By Scott Sullivan

The Empire interviewed Hostynek about the Juneau screening of "Ready," the last stop on the third annual Sphere of Influence Tour. The film will show at 8:15 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 15 at Centennial Hall.

How long has Absinthe Films been around?

Well, I've been making films since the early '90s. (Co-producer/director) Patrick (Armbruster) and I joined forces in 2000, and we've been making films together ever since. I've been coming to Alaska every year since 1992. I spend my spring there every year, anywhere from six to 10 weeks.

How did you first come to Southeast Alaska?

I was on my way back from Valdez. I went with (snowboarders) Craig Kelly and his best friend, Dan Donnelly. They invited me up to Valdez in '92 and on our way back we stopped in Juneau and met Bruce (Griggs) and Seandog (Sean Brownell), who had an eye on some things out in the icefield that they wanted to do, and we talked to them about that the first time. Then we kept coming back and did a bunch of filming up in the icefields for about eight years before venturing out to Skagway and Haines. We've been going there for eight years.

Alaska's been getting a lot of snow the last couple of years. How has that affected your filming?

When there's a lot of snow, it's generally easier, but when we're flying with the helicopters up in Haines or in the icefields, it doesn't make that big of a difference. It makes more of a difference whether it stays cold or not. That has a much larger impact on our film than the amount of snow. But more snow is always good, too.

When you talk to other people in other places, how do you rate Alaska, particularly here in Southeast?

It's the best place I've ever been, and that's why I keep coming back every year. It's just the snow sticks to mountainsides. Usually snow just tumbles off in a less "coastal" mountain range. If you were more inland you wouldn't be able to ride the stuff that's steep because snow just doesn't stick to rock faces in other places the way it does in Alaska. And the mountains are just amazing. They're endless.

Tell me about this year's film. What makes it different from previous years?

Usually we just plant a seed and grow the film around it, and the seed is basically the word. We come with a premise. Last year it was 'Optimistic?' with a question mark, and it was looking at our environment and the future of winter. It's kind of a subtle question. It's not like we really get into it and have a lot of spoken word, but just a lot of imagery reflected back to what the title is about. And this year 'Ready' is all about being prepared, and just the state of being prepared and preparing for things. Whether you are able to take advantage of the situation or not really depends on your state of mind and how well you have prepared for the moment when it actually does come around.

How do you feel your films stand out in comparison to other ski or snowboard movies?

The music is really important to us. One thing that really sets us apart is the music that we choose and how carefully we choose it and how much the lyrics actually have to do with telling the story. I know a lot of people don't actually hear lyrics, but the people who do pay attention will definitely find a whole other layer of meaning to our films if they pay attention to the lyrics.

What about the riders?

The riders are the best riders in the world. Every year we have the rider of the year, or a few of the riders of the year and so it's really about going into the mountains with the best snowboarders and just following them and filming what they do instead of dictating what we want to see in our film. It's more about documenting their lives and bringing that into the film.

Jeremy Jones is definitely one of the legends of Alaska as far as riding Alaska terrain. No one has ever gotten as close to perfection as he has. He comes up there every winter and he's just incredible to watch, and he has a really outstanding segment in our film.

We also have a TV show which is based on the film crew and the crew of riders. It's called 'Flipside' and it's on Fuel TV. And it's also on iTunes. ('Flipside') is just an extension of the film itself. In the film there's no spoken word, there's no interviews or anything like that. So we can just get a little bit more into the depth of it with a TV show.

What goes into making a film, what kind of effort?

Well, it takes about six of us. It takes everything we've got all year long. We make one film a year and we make six to seven episodes of the TV show, and then we have a film tour that brings the film all around the country and actually all around Europe as well.

How many stops were there on this year's tour?

Twenty-one in North America and 20 in Europe. Juneau is the last screening of the tour.

How long is it and how many different riders are there?

There's 18 riders and it's 52 minutes long.

Can you tell me about how you came up with the name Absinthe Films?

Well, there's a few parallels between snowboarding and this drink that is outlawed. Both the drink and the sport were outlawed by people who were sort of closed-minded. (Absinthe) was demonized at the turn of century but now you're seeing it being accepted again in a lot of countries. Back when we started with that name there were a lot of similarities, because snowboarding was outlawed at a lot of ski hills. People thought (snowboarding) was crazy. But it's really not. It's just that some people want to do something other than the norm.

What do you want people to know about this film as it relates to Southeast Alaska?

I think that a lot of people in Juneau and in Haines do realize what incredible mountains they live among. I'm hoping more and more can open their eyes to the mountains around them and really realize that the best mountains in the world are right there.

Are you planning to come back to do more filming this year?

Definitely. Yeah. We'll be coming there every spring - between Juneau and Haines. We filmed a bunch of stuff at Eaglecrest last year for "Optimistic?" We had a whole segment that was shot there. This year we shot a little bit at Eaglecrest and did some pretty extensive filming in the mountains (in Juneau) and tons of stuff in Haines.

Do you have different peaks that you'd like to come back to?

It's not so much peaks or runs that we're trying to bag. Every year when we come back it's different because the snow fills in differently. There's still so much area to explore and to revisit. It's literally endless.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at Tibbett can be reached at

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