The Shadow Campaign 'The Warmth of Winter' Film Review

The Shadow Campaign’ is a series of 4 short films for DPS Skis in partnership with Outdoor Research & GoreTex. Directed by Ben Sturgulewski, these longer form film series mate features from traditional filmmaking and television shows, viral, commercial and branded video to create what I think is where the future of content and media could be ending up.

Below is the film in question I am reviewing today


Sturge Film founder and director Ben Sturgulewski is an Alaska based; award wining director and cinematographer who has won prizes such as Powder Magazine's coveted Movie of the Year Award. It was true that people in the ski, action sports and film industry were expecting big things, but big things were definitely given! With an online branded film series like this where DPS Skis and Gore-Tex are essentially Ben's only major investors, the brief of creating 'an annual line up of fresh artistic festival worthy film shorts released online' which still respects and shows off these brands in the correct way is no easy task. 

I would like to start by focusing on the title of this episode in the film series, 'The Warmth of Winter'. Most would say that its total nonsense. How could winter, known for being cold wet and dark, be warm? Well to answer and put straight your fuss, the idea behind the title is in fact how when winter and the ski season arrives on ski resort and mountain doorsteps, the ski community once again can rejoice in their shared passion once again and from that a lot of love, belonging and warmth is felt between community members. After the release of 'Valhalla', of which Ben took several roles in, during an interview with Coldsmoke Winter Film Festival, Ben brought up that ‘the average skier doesn’t really connect with’ people hucking cliffs and doing all these crazy freestyle tricks.


I am not one to rightfully comment on a films editing as this skill of mine is still in its infancy, but I will say a few things. Firstly I really like the cuts and transitions that were chosen in this film. They are slow, gradual interlacing transitions that help amplify to its audience of its dark, mysterious and new tone to action sports and ski films. The films colour pallet is such that it amplifies the 'warmth' of winter. In the 2 screenshots above, the colour palette reminds the films audience and viewers about that special christmas, family and homely feel. Finally the mix between the Japanese mountain time lapses and steady, static 'b-roll' environment shots within the middle of the film is cool playing along and emphasising the bouncy but smooth tempo and mood of Sylvan Esso's 'Coffee' (the films soundtrack).


As a whole the Shadow Campaign series comes across as having very high production value and that for sure comes across in the high level of cinematography that is being shown. Drones, high image quality cameras and lenses have been used and I can tell the team spent spent some time during pre production to really narrow down the shots they wanted each morning. The majority of lighting in the film comes either from natural light from the sun, both harsh and soft diffused light from clouds, or practical light found in the Japanese bar in the intro and outro to the film. I think this use of lighting really helps to show off the 'soul' of Japanese skiing, which is based around the huge amounts of snow Japan and its resorts receives, the small bars serving sushi bento, amazing Japanese beer and the Japanese "cough syrup" of sake shots and then the extremely fun and friendly Japanese people who love pulling off the signature peace sign in a photo.

Even cinematography basics like composition and camera movements are done to a level that is awe inspiring. Below are some screen grabs from the film with my comments on that bit of the film in relation to the films cinematography.

In the film, the shot that is shown above is one of the many cool camera movements that I am drawn to. In this shot, as the skier makes his way down the face, on the spine, the drone is moving towards this mountain face, the camera is tilting down keeping the skier in frame and ends pretty close to the mountain face. Its just the originality of the shot that draws me to it as I think a lot of directors and cinematographers would take the same scene with the skier heading down the face, as stick top a shot of the drone following from behind the skier.

Take a good look at the screenshot above. Today, almost every production will have drones on their radar of tools to use because of their vantage point they can give a story and production. However the framing and vantage point of this drone shot is just little bit more different as many would have associated the skier to be facing the drone or the drone following from behind him. I think the attraction in this shot is that it uses the width of the 16x9 frame to show the length and possibly the gradient of that particular run without directly showing how long the ski run through the pillow line is.

Music & Sound

For the most part this film features the song 'Coffee' by Sylvan Esso and the intro and outro features Marmoset's 'Night Street'. In my opinion the latter of these song choices best suits the nature and style of this film because I can't match up why a song 'based on the idea of contra dancing as a way of talk about relationships' can relate to Japan or skiing. Maybe the decision to use the song is beyond what I am currently thinking so I am going to leave it there for you to make your own decisions. Regarding the films sound effects, they are strong. I love films or edits where raw clean high quality sounds like ski boots clipping into ski bindings or the glass of whiskey been thrown down the bar with the ice swirling around, mixed in with visuals and music is what todays top action and adventure sports films are made of. Its a paradise for the bodies senses.

“Coffee” is based on the idea of contra dancing as a way of talking about relationships. What happens is, you do a series of movements that are called out at the beginning of the dance — everyone knows 25 movements — and then you string them together. You’ll do the same movements with your partner, then do a dance with another dude, then come back to your partner. Dancing is just really important. So many pop songs are about dancing, which is super strange to me, because it doesn’t feel like something many people do. There’s this stigma for people who don’t dance. There’s something magical about it, and I don’t think anyone knows what it is except that it’s about letting go.
M: What role do you feel music has in film?

SJS: Music has a special power to express something you can’t see, but the director wants you to feel. The same way that a choice of lens can add a layer of texture, sound can add a new sense of touch.