‘Snow Warrior’ a gorgeous NFB short

Watching someone slog through blinding snow on a bicycle during heavy traffic is a lesson in anxiety. Realizing that the location is your hometown is a lesson in humility.

Written as a ‘love letter to winter’, Snow Warrior is a veritable moment in time for Edmonton bicycle courier Mariah Hoy as she scales the social, physical, mental, and community rungs of an icy ladder doing a job that is best deemed treacherous. 

“When it was being written, I wanted people in Dubai, New Mexico, and Ghana to be able to watch it and see people living and existing in this climate and be stunned by it,” says co-writer and director Kurt Spenrath. 

An average -30c morning in the office.

Spenrath, along with compatriot Fred Kroetsch, made Hoy the focus of this 8.5 minute short. Hoy, a diehard cyclist, starts off the short with the line, “They say that you aren’t a real bicycle courier in Edmonton util you’ve done at least two winters.” It is like a hazing, but one where the hazee willingly puts themself in direct contact with the hazing mechanism.

In the film Hoy faces negative 40 degree celsius temperatures, brown sugar snow, black ice, and the most baffling, drivers who think that she doesn’t deserve common decency because she is on a bike. 

Hoy fueling up.

This last sentiment, the automobile vs. cyclist battle of the ages, is a focal point for a portion of the film. As a cyclist I’ve faced it myself. Spenrath summed up what he saw and what the cycling community told him, “There is an anger and a power for the driver in the situation,” he said. “It is a form of low cost rage, a micro aggression that the driver holds and doesn’t realize how protected they are and unprotected the cyclist is. To sum it up, it is an implied class issue.”

Spenrath and crew made a stunning short that takes the viewer by the parka and shows them the indifference of the season of beautiful death. In fact, Spenrath says that without his dihard crew of Kroetsch, aAron Munson, Kyle Armstrong, Rob Millang, Philip Dransfeld, and Larry Kelly, this short wouldn’t even have a chance to exist. It was their creativity and inventiveness that, according to Spenrath, allowed Hoy to be captured properly and with honesty. We see Hoy as she falls off her bike, as her gaze never leaves more than a foot ahead of her front tire, and as she struggles to make a living on her own terms with the grace and poise of someone running a frigid gauntlet. We see all this as if we are there, right in front of her.

Munson and Kroetsch creating in order to capture.

The film does not really have much in the way of story structure but that is because it isn’t needed.  It is a vignette of what Hoy goes through in a specific period of time. But what the short does have is character. It has the intrepid Hoy, it has her tight knit community, and it has the sociopathy of our city during its moodiest of seasons.

It is worth the 8.5 minutes. And although it feels like it may be a bit too short, it ends when it needs to, posing the question ‘why does she do it?’, and answers us by subtly showing us. 

Such is life. 

Here is the full short from the National Film Board:

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