When Teton Gravity Research approached Jeremy Grant about their latest film, the legendary action sports and adventure filmmaker wanted to shoot footage of some of the world’s best riders in a variety of off-the-beaten-path locations across the world, showcasing the far-reaching appeal of the sport.
A novel concept for a bike film, no doubt, but practically speaking? Not an easy sell.
“Jeremy had this idea and I was like, ‘Well, you know, there is a pandemic going on. It’s pretty ambitious,’” remembers Aaron Whitley, a Nelson-based producer and cinematographer on TGR’s Esperanto. “Sure enough we got the greenlight and things did start opening up. We just had to be creative.”
Shot across eight locations, from mountain biking hotspots such as Boulder, Colo. and Innsbruck, Austria, to emerging destinations such as Ecuador and Zambia, Esperanto showcases the universal language of biking and its recent growth internationally.
“It’s one of those things that doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you’re riding a mountain bike, you’re experiencing the same joy and feeling of adrenaline and passion that someone on the other side of the world is,” remarks Justin Wyper, a Whistler-based rider and trail-builder who was featured in the film’s B.C. segment. “Everyone is feeling that same thing when they hop on a mountain bike.”
Although the feeling may be the same, of course the sport’s significance differs across cultures. What’s remarkable about the film, outside of its jaw-dropping riding, is the variety of athletes it shines a light on. Esperanto’s roster of 21 riders ranges from the biggest names in the sport, such as Whistler’s own Brandon Semenuk, American freeride pioneer Cam Zink and Swedish slopestyle superstar Emil Johannson, to less known up-and-coming athletes like Gift, a teenaged cross-country racing phenom based in Zambia. After his dad died and passed down his trusty bike, Gift proved himself a natural, joining his local bike club and quickly blowing away the competition.
“He just destroys the competition there. He just beats everybody,” says Whitley. “He’s got an amazing attitude. It’s a really special story about what a mountain bike can do for someone.”
Esperanto is just the latest and perhaps most ambitious example of what TGR, the Wyoming-based action sports media company, is capable of. Despite having to contend with lockdowns and constantly changing travel restrictions, the company made use of its connections on the international bike scene to hire local crews to film, like in Zambia or Japan, the latter being completely closed off to out-of-country visitors at the time of the shoot. In a way, the making of Esperanto highlights the sport’s global reach just as much as the breathtaking bike footage that resulted from it.
“This day and age, there are people who do what we do all over the world and it’s great to be able to draw from some of the connections I’ve made in the industry over the years,” says Whitley. “All these stories that we showcased were because somebody in the crew knew somebody. It all came together through a lot of hard work.”
Esperanto hits the Maury Young Arts Centre on Saturday, July 23 and Sunday, July 24, with an all-ages screening at 6:30 p.m. (doors at 5:30 p.m.) followed by a 19-plus screening, with bar service, at 9 p.m. (doors at 8:15 p.m.). The event features live music by DJ ManCat and prize giveaways. Tickets are $10 for youth and $20 for adults, available at showpass.com/tgr-esperanto.