In a new direction for LEVEL 1, "Full Circle" is a narrative-driven 'life after' story of sweet serendipities 

In a new direction for LEVEL 1, "Full Circle" is a narrative-driven 'life after' story of sweet serendipities 

By Hannah Truby

This story was originally featured in the Mountain Gazette Sunday email — our weekly newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter here.

Last week, I got to chat with Josh Berman, owner of production company LEVEL 1, about his latest film. “Full Circle” is distinctly different from LEVEL 1’s previous releases; among other distinguishing elements, it’s not a ski movie. Not really.

“One of the reasons I got into filmmaking in the first place was to tell stories,” Berman says on our call. “And that was something that I really didn't have a lot of space for in making action ski films, year in and year out. I was ready to do something different.”

Action ski films were indeed LEVEL 1’s signature dish. The company’s founding goal was to document the evolution of freestyle skiing - a goal it’s been meeting since 1999 – producing some of the sport’s biggest award-winning films, and introducing to the industry many of today’s biggest names. 

Despite their instrumental role in the sport’s advancement, the crew became unsure of the production company’s future, and announced they would be pressing the pause button on filmmaking; “Is Level 1 Done?”, was the 2019 POWDER headline.

That same year, a story presented itself to Berman, in the form of a snowboarder-turned-sit-skier. 

Trevor Kennison, who was paralyzed in a snowboarding accident five years prior, wanted to document his return to the accident site and complete a single backflip. 

“Trevor showed up, at the perfect time, with this incredible story,” Berman recalls. “It was going to be a 10-minute short, just destined for YouTube, but as soon as I started spending time with Trevor, I realized that there was a lot more to his story.”

It's clear “Full Circle” was indeed the different kind of project Berman was ready to take on. Not only does it deliver action that rivals previous LEVEL 1 features, but it presents a moving, story-driven narrative the company had yet to.

"Full Circle" Trevor Kennison behind the scenes

"Full Circle" behind the scenes interview

But the story of “Full Circle” isn’t just Kennison’s – it’s also that of the late Barry Corbet’s. 

A true man of the outdoors with a legendary reputation, Corbet was a skier, mountaineer, and explorer who, in a helicopter crash in 1968, tragically broke his back. Unbeknownst to both, Corbet would pave the way for Kennison for years to come.

“Full Circle” opens at the Kings & Queens of Corbet’s competition in Jackson Hole, as Kennison successfully launches into Corbet’s Couloir in an incredible 60-foot leap – the first sit-skier to ever do so. To compete at Corbet’s Couloir, after which Corbet is named, had been Kennison’s driving ambition since the day of his accident, and is one of many things that tie the two athletes across space and time - the latter seeming to be the only thing that separates them.

The two share some remarkable connections — not only are they linked by resilience in their pursuits of passion post- injury, but by a series of serendipities that take the form of common themes and shared locations: injuries in the Colorado backcountry, fame in Jackson Hole, and more are highlighted in the film.

“Trevor’s desire to air in Corbet’s Couloir really changed everything with the project,” Berman tells me. “Early on, he made a list of goals that he wanted to accomplish in his post-accident recovery process, and that was always on that list of goals. It's just so serendipitous, because he had no idea who Barry was. And that is really one of the things that makes the film special.”

Using one’s story to mirror the other’s, the documentary chronicles Kennison’s journey of post-injury, a path that, in many ways, was paved by Corbet. 

It is a ‘life after’ story, proof of resiliency, growth, and success post-trauma.

 Time lapse of Trevor Kennison jump

When asked to explain the film’s thesis in his own words, Berman said: “Ultimately, it’s about turning tragedy into opportunity. And I think that that's something that both Barry's story and Trevor’ story really illustrate.”

In addition to documenting feats of courage and connection, one thing “Full Circle” does well and finishes better for it is how it does not use the athlete's as markers for post-injury success; it is careful to showcase the many ways in which happiness can be found in a life “after”.

“While it’s an incredible one with lots of accomplishments, we didn’t want to tell just Trevor’s story,” Berman says. “One of the quotes in the film that really resonates with me is from Barry's daughter, Jennifer, about how Barry always referred to the second half of his life, the post-accident half, as being the most important and the most fulfilling. This is a world-renowned athlete, who has literally stood on top of the highest peaks in the world, and he found that he had more to offer as an advocate, as somebody who wrote books and made films and helped redefine how people live with disability.”

As we talked, I learned that Berman himself suffered an injury that altered his life’s trajectory. Though not as severe, it is not unlike his film’s protagonists in how it altered his life’s trajectory. 

Berman, previously a competitive mogul skier, was not born with filmmaking aspirations. Rather, in store for him, was a “very mediocre professional skiing career.” But a knee injury in 2000 forced him into retirement. As he healed, Berman began shooting ski clips with his friends in the interim, who happened to be some of the best athletes of the time. 

“It was really sort of a backup plan to keep myself busy while my knee healed,” Berman explains. “It never really did. So I kept on making ski films.”

“Full Circle” is Berman’s first ever feature documentary, as well as his first on Netflix. It also serves as a launching pad for LEVEL 1, as they aim to feature more story-driven films.

Trevor Kennison black and white photo