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TatrasTATRAS: The East meets West counterculture, in mountain culture, 52min. Dvcam/Digital Beta /16mm,colour

Vancouver’s Stan Klamerus is not unlike many immigrants to Canada. He misses his roots. Klamerus is from the Tatra mountain region in Southern Poland. A ski instructor by trade and a former Polish ski champion, he surrounds himself with relics from his past and has a deep connection to his medieval tribal group -The Gorals. His family was members of this unique culture and their roots trace back to the late 1600’s when they still lived as always - as The Gorals. (Gora means Mountain in Polish) They have often been referred to as: the “ Klamerus Klan “ in the Polish Media.

When Stan came to Canada he had high hopes and dreams of becoming a ski instructor at some of Canada’s more prestigious ski resorts like Banff or Whistler. Lacking good English skills and more so, contacts in the right places, he had to settle instead for the slopes of Vancouver’s Mt Seymour, after a stint in Montreal. Thus, for years he made ends meet by taking odd maintenance jobs alongside ski instructing gigs, with the less affluent target market, teaching the newcomers in Vancouver newer Immigrant Polish Community, and their kids, how to ski. His dream of skiing Canada’s big peaks had not yet even been fulfilled after being in Canada for so many years.

Although he has introduced his sons to Vancouver’s local mountains and snowboarding, they don’t yet share their father’s intimate connection to his culture, community and roots. Instead, like youth everywhere, they participate in North American popular culture. What matters to them is hip-hop music, teenage consumerism and all its trappings – some good and some bad. His brother, Piotr Klamerus, is a famous Polish woodcarver, living in a heritage Polish mountain village of Chocholow. I wish to take Stan back to his cherished Tatras of Poland and Slovakia, with his two snowboarding sons. Stan is an amiable small man who still lives and dreams of his expatriate past. Socially, he has an interesting history - as a single father with many problems bringing up his kids, including battling their past addiction to hard drugs. The Tatra mountains sit straddling the border between Southern Poland and Slovakia. A culturally and historically rich mountain region where Pope John Paul II spent his leisure time and where live some of the world’s best mountaineers. Rugged mountains that are often dubbed “ The miniature Alps.“ There is a wealth of stories to tell here. For example: During the nazi occupation of Poland, for instance, the Gorals maintained a network of trails here. A labyrinth all the way to Hungary that was used to smuggle information, goods, and people out of Hitler’s reach.

Out of the last 2000 years of such stories, have come an incredible rich cachet of carving, poetry, music, costume and dance - all specific to the region.

And while the world changed around it, Stan Klamerus’s home mountain village region, transformed as well. To find out about his own tribe, the viewers travel back to the beginnings of the Gorals and how they arrived in the Tatras. We also meet the rest of the Klamerus family . Stan had six brothers and one sister . One other famous brother and sculptor had already died, thus further extenuating Stans longing for a visit back home. Waldek, the deceased Klamerus was a Cripple who still climbed on crutches, thus earning the highest of respect among the hardy Goral people.

He takes this opportunity to take his his sons along and away from the bad habits in ethnocentric North America. He hopes for them to learn about the rich culture and roots of his own mountain family and strong community values back in Poland. Here they learn of the Tatras on both sides of the border and their mountaineering history, among backcountry ski escapades of our crew. These mountains gave birth to Mountaineering legends who conquered some of the world’s toughest mountains while constrained by the economic hardships of living under Communist rule.

Both sides of the Polish/Slovak border are inhabited by a unique mountain peoples, The Gorals, who have an incredibly rich history combined with colorful customs and ethnically exotic music and dance.

Poland and Slovakia both have, and are continuing to go, through a difficult period of transition. While the Poles have always embraced the west and were often outspoken in their stand against totalitarian communism , the Slovaks, formerly under Czech control , were always more subdued and subtle with their complaints. The size of the countries alone made a great difference as it was more difficult for the Soviet Union to control a country of forty million people in contrast to Czechoslovakia’s eighteen million. Hence, when the change came towards a free market economy, the Poles surged ahead, perhaps over anxiously embracing the ways of the west. Sadly, these days, it is marketing strategies, which dominate previously intellectual conversations. American and multinational companies have wasted little time in taking advantage of the people’s eagerness to be like the west. But is the trend really headed ethically in the right direction? Is Polish Mountain culture now not being compromised instead for a fast food, fast fix, consumer driven ways of our North American Culture?

In Slovakia by contrast, things are slower and more hesitant to change. This may be attributed to a much more oppressed past where in a certain, almost charming way, the Slovaks need more time to digest the changes affecting their new nation.

Through the eyes of Stan Klamerus, Extreme Explorations wishes to explore this incredibly diversified mountain region, on both sides of the border in an ethnographic documentary, highlighting the mountains, it’s peoples and the world changing so quickly around them. But there is more to our mission statement. We believe this region may be surging ahead perhaps too fast, trying to attain that “ five billion served “ mentality.

As far as our Canadian Cultural contribution ? In lieu of this, along with Stan, we also plan to bring a taste of western youth ideals to The Gorals of the Tatras. By just bringing the concept of “ski bumming” , or western counter-culture. to this diversely colorful region, still discovering the trappings of capitalism, we hope tu spur some interesting cross cultural interaction as far as mountain customs go.

We hope to travel and base ourselves in the Polish Resort town of Zakopane as well as Slovak city of Poprad. Travelling with Stan and us , will be several skier-mountaineer types (ski celebrities from my past films) from the world of the ski enthusiasts established in western ski and mountain resorts of France, Switzerland as well as North America. Stan’s brother, Piotr Klamerus is also an avid skier who will act as an important guide. He is already a celebrity in Poland. Polish Television has done several films on his art work. By bringing these people and elements to the Tatras, we hope to study and reveal the locals’ perception of the good, as well as the bad western phenomenon, now encroaching their culture. Furthermore, by introducing the more underworld element, we hope to flush out the region’s own ski and mountain enthusiasts, portraying their lifestyles in contrast to those of our crew. Whatever the outcome may be, the process should exhibit a marvelous documentary filming experience.

To end the film we travel back to Canada, where Stan and his brother Piotr, will finally get a chance to ski the big open snowfields and glaciers, which Canada has to offer. Our local Canadian “gorals”, represented by young mountain guides and ski/snowboard aficionados shine this time as it is they who take Stan , Piotr and our crew to their favorite location/s. Something that Stan has not yet had a chance to experience. Was this a result of plain luck, timing,or primarily, his past economic situation ? What factors keep immigrants like Stan in Canada, and from returning back to Poland or their home countries earlier ? Is it pride , or a fear of, again, more change ?

While Poland’s mountain regions offer the deep rooted history and culture , it is Canada which reigns as far as the sheer openness of available mountain terrain , less crowded slopes – a quality so unique to our own mountain world here in BC, and a primary element that still draws people here from the world over.

It is a rich story and one which should be embraced not only by Poles, Americans, Canadians and Slovaks but also by all nations worldwide. It should fulfill those interested in social change, immigration, multiculturalism , all set in a splendid mountain setting, and even livened up by some magnificently extreme, snow sport footage.. But beyond all this the film poses an important Socio/political question – Is immigration really the best solution for everyone ? Let’s hear a few sampled views.

October, 25 

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