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The filming of “Out on a Limb” nearly cost budding film maker Tyler Wilkinson-Ray most of his big toe, thanks to a bad case of frostbite suffered on location in the remote Chic-Choc Mountains of Quebec. Other than that, things have worked out very well.
The latest (which is only the second) film from T-Bar Films, which Wilkinson-Ray owns with his brother, Elliott, is a profile of a single—and singularly amazing—skier, Vasu Sojitra. It’s the rare ski film shot exclusively in Eastern locations, including Mad River Glen, Sugarbush, the Chic-Chocs, and other backcountry locations. Sojitra skis with aggression and fluidity, tackling tough lines with courage and making them look easy. He earns many of his turns on long, steep backcountry hikes. And he does it all with one leg.
Sojitra was born in Connecticut and has lived in both India and America. As a child he was diagnosed with septicemia, which led to the amputation of his right leg.
“He’s an amazing athlete,” Wilkinson-Ray says. “I met him kicking a soccer ball around at UVM (University of Vermont). He’s also quite the soccer player.”
Shot last winter on the thriftiest of budgets, “Out on a Limb,” which launched early this week, is making big waves. It was accepted for screening at the prestigious Banff Film Festival, where it premiered. It was included on the festival’s tour, an even more selective honor. It won Best of Festival at the Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival, and it was nominated for two Powder Awards.
“Banff was our target, and there are really high-quality films in it, so for us to be up there with them was quite an honor,” Wilkinson-Ray says. “I didn’t even fully appreciate what it meant to be included. They get several hundred applications for 50 slots, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that we had the smallest budget in the festival.”
That budget was a little more than $8,000, Wilkinson-Ray says. Sojitra raised almost half of it through Kickstarter. That was matched by the film’s primary sponsor, Columbia Sportswear. Local Vermont businesses, including The Alchemist (brewer of the explosively popular Heady Topper IPA), threw down a few hundred dollars as well. (“That’s worked out pretty good,” says Wilkinson-Ray. “They haven’t said no to me asking for free beer yet.”)
The Wilkinson-Ray brothers grew up in Vermont, racing at tiny Cochran’s Ski Area near Burlington. Cochran’s was among a number of soulful community ski hills celebrated in T-Bar’s first film, “United We Ski.”
Wilkinson-Ray barely escaped the Chic-Chocs with his big toe. “During the day it was getting up to the negative teens at best. We were out there 12 hours a day, and after a week of that, my toe was pretty screwed up. The toenail and everything else around it had to come off. The doctors weren’t sure it was ever going to grow back, but fortunately it did.”