Documentary Releases: Woodsrider (2019) - Reviewed

“Brother told me about a physical law that teases me, the Doppler effect.  The sounds of anything coming at you—a train, say, or the future—has a higher pitch than the sounds of the same thing going away.  Like all falling bodies, it constantly accelerates.  But I would like to, some day as I’m old and gray, be able to hear my life as I’m hearing it now, as if coming at me.”

Sadie Ford’s quote continues from there, cyan text scrolling up on the screen over a shot of the snowy hill we have just patiently watched her traverse.  Unlike the Doppler effect she references, however, the sound of this film coming is the exactly the same as the sound of it going: slow, quiet, and monotonous. 

Shot in a cinéma vérité style, Woodsrider is a documentary that follows Sadie, a 19-year-old with a passion for snowboarding.  Providing minimal score and lacking any voiceover narrative, with unobtrusive camera placements to ensure authenticity of the moment, we follow this tomboyish teen as she roams the wintery wilderness with her loyal dog and spends time with her friends.  While the shots of nature are stunning, peaceful and downright meditative at times, there is little else of value this observational film has captured.  

Despite the profound quote Sadie has at the commencement of the film, we are given no other revelatory moments with her.  The seemingly endless, silent shots of her walking through snow with her furry companion are presented in a way to suggest she is an introspective loner, but there is nothing else to suggest that content-wise.  We are also shown ample footage of her having jovial conversations with her friends that seems to suggest the opposite: that she enjoys spending time with others.  This contradiction does not add up to anything particularly compelling.  Certainly everyone has dualities, but her portrayal here ends up lacking a strong reason why we should want to watch Sadie.

Woodsrider is a 1 hour and 23 minute exploration that leaves the audience asking “why,” but unfortunately not for the reasons that filmmaker Cambria Matlow probably intended.  Why did we have to watch Sadie brush her teeth from beginning to completion?  Why did we need to see her do her laundry for two minutes straight?  Why were we shown so many shots of a random friend dancing to pop music during a party?  Why were we even shown that party for over 10 minutes in the first place?  Despite this being a short film, it feels tedious with the editing choices that were made.

Conversely, there is an aspect of the film that is interesting but never fully actualized.  From a conversation she has with her mother about ashes being spread and her inheritance, we are led to believe her father has recently passed away.  The subject matter changes quickly and is never mentioned again, but it seems like something that deserved more attention.  Is grief perhaps why Sadie has been enjoying her solitude in nature, or was she this way prior to his death?  As this style of documentary necessitates, we are left to draw our own conclusions, but there feels like a missed opportunity somewhere in this film. 

As the film snail-crawls toward the credits, we are no better off in the end than we were at the beginning.  While Sadie seems like a fine girl, there’s only so many long shots of her walking in snow one can take, and watching teenagers hang out isn’t anything new.  Woodsrider would like you to think that it’s deep, but it’s really just an exhausting examination of an everyday person.  If you have a ton of patience, are curious about the mundane, and enjoy looking at snow, then perhaps give this film a try.  Otherwise, it’s not worth your time.

--Andrea Riley