The Michigan Ice Film and a Q&A with Aaron Peterson
UPDATE: You can now rent or download The Michigan Ice Film. If you like local folklore, adventure, winter, or simply live in Michigan, you need to check it out. Much respect to Aaron and his crew for putting this amazing film together during the coldest winters on record.
Let us introduce you to Aaron Peterson. Aaron is the driving force behind Cold & Clear Cinema. Last year his team brought us Cold Rolled (you can watch Cold Rolled here), a film featuring Marquette’s one of a kind snow biking trails. Now, a new project is underway, The Michigan Ice Film, with the mission of highlighting ice climbing in Alger County.
This summary says it all.
Munising, Michigan, population 2,500, is home to Grand Island National Recreation Area and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The town boasts one stoplight, 6 bars—and 100 named ice climbs within 20 miles, making it one of the largest concentrations of climbable ice in North America.
Our respect for Aaron is hard to put into words, but we believe he’ll one day be a household name in the Upper Peninsula, much like Vicky Crystal and Buck LeVasseur. Aaron’s work ethic shows as he’s willing to put in the time and miles to get to the most difficult places. And he’s a pretty nice guy, he and his family once offered up some s’mores to us after a random run-in watching the sunset on the beaches of AuTrain.
Don’t miss out! Take some time to check out the Kickstarter Campaign and make a contribution, you have until March 18th. Look over the rewards and you’ll see that with enough dough you’ll receive a limited edition Yooper Steez shirt for The Michigan Ice Film.
Also be sure to like the Facebook Page where you can keep posted on new happenings, and we hope to see you at the premier in 2016.
We sat down with Aaron to learn more about his projects and figure out what makes him tick. Enjoy.
Q&A With Aaron Peterson
Yooper Steez (YS): How did you first find yourself in the Upper Peninsula?
Aaron Peterson (AP): The UP has always been North for me, the quintessential big North Country, wild and free and full of possibilities. I grew up in Wisco, rural farm country, a nice area but whenever I had the chance to head North to the UP I took it. It’s always felt like home, and since coming to Marquette in 2001, it has been.
YS: And you decided to stick around?
AP: For sure. My wife and I grew up together and we both always loved the UP. We had never been to Marquette, mostly the Western UP, Ironwood, Black River Harbor, The Keweenaw, etc. But when we looked at the map of the Marquette area and saw that cool shoreline stretching from Presque Isle Park all the way to the Keweenaw without much to interrupt it, we knew we had to check it out. Fourteen years later and we’ve got two little Yoopers of our own and have managed to scratch out a living. We’re settled in Chatham now, pouring all of our time and money into an old Finnish log farmhouse. The area is a nice blend for us, the old farmstead feel but with the Hiawatha Forest at the end of the road. We feel pretty lucky about how it all turned out.
YS: It won’t be long before you’re a household name in the Upper Peninsula. But for those who don’t know you, could you tell us a bit about your background in photography and videography?
AP: We’re all winging it and I’m no different. Anyone who’s honest and has hoed this row will tell you that, I hope. I have a degree in Chinese Language and Literature and East Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s a long story! But I’ve always been attracted to visual arts and literature, storytelling, media, sharing and psychology, the relationship of folks with the landscape. As a kid they call you a dreamer–or maybe even a liar. AP was often not on task! I cut my teeth in newspapers, grew a small freelance career of writing and shooting story packages for magazines and then shelved it all when our kids were born. I spent three years with the wee ones and decided I really needed to get back behind a camera. During that time technology evolved and video became much more approachable. I instantly fell in love with the dance of image, music and interview that is documentary filmmaking. It was a homecoming, a lot like coming to the UP actually, just a total feeling of “this is where I am supposed to be.”
YS: How did Cold Rolled come about?
AP: It’s all about story, the twisting threads that tie things together. Cold Rolled was essentially a fluke. I just wanted to make a little action video about riding bikes on snow. It was visually interesting, these bikes were fairly new, Marquette’s Noquemanon Trail Network developed a trail system that seemed pretty cutting edge. It seemed like a fun project to try out some new video gear on. Prior to this I had pushed “record” only a handful of times. Embarrassing but true–again, we’re all winging it. Anyway, the story just kept developing layers and I just couldn’t walk away from the story and it seemed something that needed to be done for the cycling community. I shot it in late winter and then just sat on it for the summer, eventually the folks at Travel Marquette pushed me to put it together, Salsa Cycles came on board as well and a 20-minute film was born. It was the right story at the right time, the fat biking scene was exploding in the cycling world and the larger community was looking around for ideas on how to develop trail systems and here was this great little town in the UP with a core group of people pushing the boundaries of winter riding. It’s been cool to see it bring folks together and move the sport forward while shedding a positive light on the homeland.
YS: And your latest project is The Michigan Ice Film. You’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign and have had some great buzz. What can we expect to see?
AP: It’s crazy, we launched a 2 minute teaser for the film a few weeks ago and it’s already blown the lid off the story. The Michigan Ice Film is first and foremost a story of place, Munising, Michigan home to Grand Island and Pictured Rocks which together hold one of the largest concentrations of climbable ice in North America. There are over 100 named climbs within a 20 mile radius of town, hell, some are right in town, walking distance from neighborhoods. I want to do a couple of things with the project: 1) tell the larger world about Munising and boost visitation in winter 2) tell a complete story that captures the history and culture of the climbing scene here 3) inspire locals to get out and explore their own backyards and really appreciate the globally significant landscape we have here.
YS: Please, tell us more.
AP: So we launched the teaser a few weeks ago with a Kickstarter campaign–kick in some bucks and you can get a sweet YooperSteez shirt! Ten days later I get a text–while I’m standing in a whiteout on Grand Island–from an IMAX crew making a film for the centennial of the National Park system. They saw the teaser and were moving production of the ice climbing segment of the film to Munising. So, our film is already having an impact and spawning additional coverage for the region. That’s what I love about film. It can be a very powerful, positive force for us up here. The return on investment for a community to invest in video and filmmaking is incredibly good. We’re living and working in an amazing time. We get to tell our stories our way.
YS: So what’s the deal, do you only do winter themed films?
AP: Yep, we hate our fingers and toes, and in order to properly punish our phalanges I decided to only make winter films. But seriously, winter is when I can do the most good. I joke that my job is to trick people into coming to the UP and spending their vacation money, right, and winter is the leanest time of the year for most regional businesses. Odds are good your new favorite restaurant might not be there come spring if it’s a bad winter. There are winter people out there and by telling winter stories we can make them aware of the crazy heavy snows, otherwordly ice and just general coziness and cultural quirks that make the UP a great winter travel destination. We’re not going to trick people into liking winter, but we can reach those that already do like it, or are at least willing to try. Personally too, I just like to be out in winter, I really enjoy it, the rawness, the realness. It speaks to me. I like living and working in a place where the weather can just erase you with the shift of the wind.
YS: Who are some of the climbers really pushing the limits in The Michigan Ice Film?
AP: Well again, it’s not really about the sport, it’s about the landscape in which the sport happens. But with that said, there are some interesting stories that will be included. We have a lot of big names from the climbing world involved: Raphael Slawinski, Conrad Anker, Sam Elias, Dawn Glanc, Will Mayo and others. But honestly I’m most excited and proud of the local and regional climbers involved like Adam Dailey, Ben Erdmann, Paul Kuehn, James Loveridge, Nic Dobbs and more. I dig the original stories, the gritty early days, the carefree wonder years before the Internet when this band of oddballs roamed the ice of Munising climbing whatever they could with primitive early gear and not giving a hoot about who was first, or naming the climbs, etc. It set the tone and culture for today, and something that makes the region unique in the climbing world is how very Midwestern it is. It’s chill, it’s welcoming with low ego factor. I hope it stays that way.
YS: Who else is involved with Clear & Cold Cinema?
AP: C&C is a shapeshifter. I’m at the core paying the bills and sending the emails, but there are some talented young guys and some recent additions too. Ryan Stephens and Dan Englund both were involved with Cold Rolled and are working on Michigan Ice too, as their schedules allow. For Michigan Ice a talented guy named Mike Wilkinson has come on board, he’s a Michigan guy as well though currently living in Colorado. His climbing experience and ability to rig ropes and get some great angles has really added to the film. Bill Thompson of Down Wind Sports in Marquette has been essential for his knowledge of the climbs and the community. Jon Jugenheimer and Thompson co-wrote the regional climbing guidebook. Jon has been the number one thing making this project happen. He’s worked harder than the rest of us combined to make this film a reality. Filmmaking is a team sport, no doubt. It’s been a pretty great team. And theres that t-shirt making, stone-skipping guy with the mad design skills lending a hand too. Can’t forget him.
YS: Is there another dream project out there you’re itching to do?
AP: There are stories everywhere, but I think the biggest project I want to see happen is the birth of a film festival in Marquette. Bill Thompson and I are working together, as much as we can with limited schedules, to make an adventure film festival a reality. Something that celebrates the outdoor lifestyle and love for the land that we have here, boosts the travel economy and hopefully, hopefully sparks a generation of storytellers from within our community. I had the chance to take Cold Rolled to Mountainfilm in Telluride in 2014 and it opened my eyes to what’s possible. I’d like to see a version of that happen here. Something that’s organic and fits our community, but with similar benefits.
YS: What can we expect next from Aaron Peterson and Clear & Cold Cinema?
AP: A long quiet period as I burrow into my cave and start editing The Michigan Ice Film.
YS: Enough of the serious talk. Where’s your favorite place to get a good breakfast in the U.P.?
AP: Oh man, there are so many good ones. I’m sort of split on this, because I really enjoy and respect the Sweetwater Cafe in Marquette and what they’ve been doing with local and organic since way before it was cool–but I also like to keep it real at A&M Cafe in Skandia and the gazillions of little joints like it across this fine land. I had a killer smoked trout, spinach and swiss omelette someplace while on the road a few years ago and it drives me nuts that I can’t remember where it was. I want to find that place.
YS: And more importantly, how do you prefer your pasty? Ketchup, gravy, or naked?
AP: Naked as the day it was born. I’m a fan of the AuTrain Grocery store’s pasty and consider it a personal challenge to eat it with two hands while driving the Forest Lake Road home, steering with my knees. Buckle up kids
Alright, we’re pretty stoked on this! Can we all give a round of applause to the Cold & Clear Cinema crew?