'Snow Warrior' Film Highlights Winter Cycling in Edmonton

If you're from Edmonton, you've probably never typed in "winter bike courier" into one of those job search websites. It seems like one of the last jobs anyone would want in such an (at times) unforgiving environment, unless you're one of a handful of brave locals who embrace winter in Edmonton and sign up for just that. 

Snow Warrior

Mariah is one of those locals and Snow Warrior is an 8-minute documentary film that tells the story of a day-in-the-life of a bike courier in the dead of winter of a northern Canadian city. My hometown, Edmonton. 

Presented by the National Film Board of Canada and Edmonton-based Open Sky Pictures, Snow Warrior was directed by Kurt Spenrath and Frederick Kroetsch and serves as "a love letter to the splendour of winter," according to the filmmakers. 

Snow Warrior launched on the NFB's streaming platform on March 18 and they've made it available to 'I Heart Edmonton' to stream as well (see the film below). Mr. Spenrath also agreed to answer some questions not just about the film but also about himself and why he made Snow Warrior, which she can read below. I wanted to thank both Kurt and the National Film Board for the opportunity to share this beautiful short film with YOU!! 

Snow Warrior

Interview with Kurt Spenrath:

IE/ Are you from Edmonton?

KS/ I was born at the Royal Alex and raised in the Capital Region. I have a BFA in Acting from the University of Alberta, where I spent most of the ’90s. I loved the idea of creating a love letter to winter in Edmonton with our film Snow Warrior. Sadly, like many in our industry under the current Alberta regime, I have spent the last couple of years becoming “Toronto Filmmaker Kurt Spenrath.” Yeah.

IE/ Are you a “winter guy”?

KS/ Absolutely. I’ve been known to go tenting in January. And I suppose I’ve also been known to face accusations of insanity. But I love crisp air, the absence of mud and bugs, and the quality of sound in cold, dry air.

IE/ Are you a cyclist? In the winter?

KS/ Yes, recreationally. But before doing 'Snow Warrior' I always assumed that to ride in winter I would need a tonne of specialized gear, like a fat bike with studded tires. I was blown away to see these people on fixed-gear racing bikes just going for it.

If you try it, though, I recommend you wear a helmet and stick to quiet streets for a bit. Once you go for it, it’s a total blast. And COVID-safe. And good for the planet… But no matter how fun it sounds, do not do drugs and ride a bike in winter.

IE/ What was your inspiration? Why make it?

KS/ The original suggestion came from our friend Rob Millang, who had worked as a courier. The first time we went out and met a bunch of couriers, Mariah Hoy really stood out as an obvious person to do a film about. A woman, early in her career, in a male-dominated job, legitimately testing herself. And she’s a super-cool person.

The subject also seemed like an innovative way to look at Edmonton, and at cycling. Older Edmontonians might remember the late city councillor Tooker Gomberg. He was the first guy I remember that very publicly rode a bike year-round. He was relentlessly mocked for it. We now know that so many of the ideas he fought for, like the recycling plant and opposition to the Iraq War, were years ahead of their time. Somehow cycling is the last idea of his that needs to catch on.

IE/ Was filming in winter challenging?

KS/ It was a challenge because we originally planned to shoot it the year Edmonton had no winter. We got the footage of Mariah with long hair, and then had to shut down for a year.

The big challenge was filming people on bikes who go as fast as these folks go. If you’ve ever watched credits and wondered what a “grip” does, you can see it in 'Snow Warrior.' Larry Kelly and Rob Millang designed and built some really cool camera rigs to allow us to shoot the cyclists safely. And getting the “sound of winter” was a challenge, but Ian Armstrong was a genius and Phillip Dransfeld’s field audio was great. And all of those guys are from Edmonton.

IE/ Do you have an update on Mariah?

KS/ Mariah totally conquered that winter and several more since we filmed, and has actually moved up the ladder of the courier company and is now dealing with their corporate clients.

Gerald, the courier in his fifties, is still rocking it as a legendary bike courier. Everyone in the film is living their best lives, and keeping things moving.

IE/ Any new projects?

KS/ You can also check out S'earching for Winnetou' and 'Cottagers and Indians,' my CBC/POV films currently on GEM. In May, a new series I’ve created called 'Going Native' premieres on APTN. It’s already been renewed for a second season on the strength of test-audience reactions, and we will be shooting a few more segments in Edmonton for that one.

And, hopefully, I can find another story to tell with the National Film Board. They are so good to filmmakers, and really give people like me a chance to make something interesting and artistic.

Thank you, Kurt!


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