Numinous, a 50-minute 2017 short film directed by Nicolas Teichrob and featuring Kye Petersen, is a beautiful and masterfully crafted work of exhilarating, exciting cinematography. Unfortunately for those few of us at 2018 Mountainfilm’s Base Camp outdoor theater who stayed through until its conclusion, the film had little to offer except its stunts, shots, and cuts.
The festival program describes Numinous as having “no need for intrusive dialogue or narrator to tell this story.” But in all the footage of mountain skiing, there are only a few moments where a story can be found. The film seems to be emulating (if not quite as effectively) the similar approach used in Ron Ficke’s 2011 film Samsara, another wordless film that demonstrates the fragile beauty of the natural world.
Sitting on the damp grass in the outdoor field at Base Camp on a cloudless but chilly evening in Telluride, shivering, huddled in jackets and blankets, the audience was more engaged by the short films that preceded it (like 2.5 Million and Imagination: Tom Wallisch) than it was by Numinous. While its cinematography and editing are beautiful, the images become repetitive, and they provide little information about its subject: Who is Kye? Where is Kye? Where did he come from? Why did he decide to snowboard down a mountain, in dangerous, avalanche territory? How did he train? What motivates him? None of these are answered.
There were numerous moments where, if the editing was different, and the story focused less and the skiing and more on the nature or subjects, you could still have a story without a narrator or voice over. An example of this occurs towards the end of the film, where the skiers created shelter from a blizzard. To me, this was the most interesting part of the film, because it is one of the few moments that shows conflict in the narrative. The music reflects what is occurring, breaking up from the action and beat-driven dubstep, which also became repetitive after a while.
Other than the small moments that I wish were expanded upon, there others that didn’t make any sense. Cuts between Peterson on the slopes, coffee-drinking crowds, and horses, suggest an implied meaning. Are Teichrob and Peterson attempting to make a commentary about how consumerism and human waste is affecting nature? If so, the environmentalism theme isn’t clear enough, and the shots aren’t cohesive with the rest of the film and tend to detract from, rather than reinforce, any thematic meaning.
The evening started with a full house in attendance for 2.5 Million and Imagination, but by the time Numinous concluded, there was a 10-foot gap between the nearest audience member and myself. With sponsors like Patagonia and Oakley behind the production, Numinous will surely appeal to their patrons, but perhaps best seen in small doses on the flat-screens in their stores used to sell more ski gear, at least more so than as a full-length documentary used to inspire or engage an audience.