Goodbye to the Boys Club: Anne Cleary Ushers in a New Era in Ski Films

Published on 03/14/2023 · 16 min readGet to know filmmaker Anne Cleary as she chats with Curated Expert Allie Staffen about representation, filming with friends, and navigating a male-dominated industry.
By Ski Expert Allie Staffen

Photo by Taylor Boyd

Meet Anne Cleary—a woman taking the film industry by storm! Anne was the first female director at Crankworx and has directed over 60 short films. She changed the narrative in 2021 when she dropped “The Approach” and continued that conversation in 2022 with “The Approach 2.0.” I had the pleasure of meeting her at both world premieres in Denver, Colorado. More recently, I had the chance to sit down and chat with Anne about her career, “The Approach 1.0” and “2.0,” and what is next for her!

Watch the video below or read on to hear our full conversation!

I want everyone to know you a little more before diving into "The Approach" and "The Approach 2.0." So I have a few fun questions. When was the first time you fell in love with skiing?

That's a great question. I was a skier when I was little, and then I got into snowboarding—the dark side—when it was cool. I was basically a trend follower and wanted to do whatever my friends were doing. When I went to [the] University of Vermont, I switched back over to skiing and really fell in love with it. I had a big group of friends that would go out on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and over the weekend, and it was a really fun time. Just the energy of being outside in the winter with all my friends drew me to skiing.

The friends part is the best part of skiing, honestly. When was your first big wipeout? We all have them.

Oh man, I still wipe out a lot. [My friends and I] used to do a lot of filming [while] skiing in college, just casually. And my friend would always turn the camera off when I would drop, and I'd be like, “Hey, you have to turn the camera on and record me because I'm super good at skiing.” So I'd put up this whole bit about filming me while skiing, and then I would drop in like a tomahawk. I remember getting whiplash, trying to get shots, and going big for the camera.

I've definitely done that a few times for sure. We get too big for our britches sometimes. When did you first pick up a camera?

I've been taking photos my whole life. I started as more of a photographer, and then my group of friends and I—we called ourselves “Mad Trees” back in the day—would butt heads with the guy who had the video camera. So I felt motivated to shoot my own videos because I felt like he wasn't getting the right shots.

I probably first started shooting video 10 years ago. I think I've made 60 films and "The Approach" is definitely the biggest project that we [Mad Trees] have done. It became a good way to document all the fun antics and things we did with friends. It also gave me more control over who got space in front of the lens because, many times, that was controlled by who was behind the lens, and I wanted more agency over making decisions on who deserved to be front and center.

Photo by Anne Cleary

That's awesome. What was the first time you realized that you had made it?

Definitely "Approach 1.0." There were many learning moments—getting that film out the door, showing up to the premieres, and seeing how much people wanted to see what we had created. We felt like we had made it.

I had goosebumps the entire time during "The Approach" and then [again with] "The Approach 2.0.” it just really spoke to me, and I really enjoyed it, so thank you. [I’m] glad that Denver was the world premiere so I could see it firsthand.

Besides skiing and snowboarding films, I know you also create bike films. What is your favorite bike you've ever ridden?

I love Evil Bikes. It’s based in Bellingham and is a fun brand. The company is growing and learning, and it’s starting to get a whole fleet of female ambassadors on board. The bikes are super nice and shreddy. Sometimes I feel like I'm riding my bike, and other times my bike is riding me because, wow, this thing can handle way more than I can right now. I'm on an Evil Offering right now, which is a shorter travel 29er, and I use that for shuttle laps in the Northwest and pedal laps here. It's pretty bomber.

I'll have to check that one out, for sure. I'm a kind of lazy biker. I typically do bike parks. I'm out at Trestle at Winter Park a lot. I earn my turns with skis, so I should do the same with bikes.

Bike parks are the best.

It's so much fun. And then you're still getting that chairlift experience with everyone out there, but we'll get back to skis. What's your favorite pair?

I like my inbounds setup, which is just alpine bindings on a pair of Factions. I have a couple of pairs of Factions—which I just got the past couple of years as we've been making “The Approach” because they're a sponsor—and they're so fun. The Factions have enough camber that they're poppy and playful, and I feel like other skis I've skied on are too wide and floaty, and you're just chilling in the backseat. But the Factions put you centered and forward, and I feel stable on them when I'm carrying my big camera pack.

That's important, especially in your line of work. As the first female director at Crankworx, were you able to help pave the way for other female directors in the outdoor film industry?

That's a great question. As the first female director at Crankworx, that was a huge honor. It was actually in 2019, I believe. And then Crankworx didn't happen again because of the pandemic until this past summer. And there were tons of women in it. My friend Blake—a trans woman—made a film, and it was awesome. Crankworx pushed to get more women involved, which was a huge deal to me. I helped supervise their films. All I did was say it looked awesome, you're doing great, and if you need any support, I can help you with technical stuff.

Filmmaking is a form of expression, so there's always space for anybody who wants to make it because it's personal and everybody has different experiences. So the more people we can get making films, the more insight we'll have into how they perceive the world.

Photo by Anne Cleary

That's incredibly important—especially in this day and age—to show different perspectives. It's been kind of one perspective for so long, and I'm really excited to see where this industry goes. Being a woman in a male-dominated industry, what do you think the hardest part was of breaking out?

I was excited to be a woman making strides in the male-dominated industry, and I thought everyone would be excited too, but it felt competitive as I started to do well. At first, I was making cute little nice films, which was great. Then all of a sudden, I started getting budget over other people who were competing for budget.

What I want most is the support of everybody in this industry. Of course, I also want to support everybody else in this industry, but it's funny how competitive individualism gets in the way of that.

It’s definitely unfortunate, for sure. Do you think those roadblocks will continue to pop up, or do you think that, hopefully, it's moving in the right direction [and] that they'll start to go away?

I felt more supported by "The Approach 2.0" than "The Approach 1.0." I think people were caught off guard by "Approach 1.0." Then this year, I feel like everyone's more excited because we've made a name, and people progressed a lot just in their writing and me as a filmmaker. We learned so much in season one, and it was cool to see how we all progressed from “1.0” to “2.0” So I'm not sure, but hopefully. We got into Banff Film Festival this year, and last year, we got rejected from many festivals, so it feels good too.

Photo by Taylor Boyd

They missed out, but I'm glad you're going to be part of that this year. Do you think that the gender thing could end up being an advantage in the future, or do you think that it [could] move towards having no relevance, whether you're male or female in the industry?

I'm definitely curious about the gender narrative because it's pretty binary, like women and men. I was speaking with this consultant, Iko Bacilla, and she does a lot of DEI work in the equity space. She works with huge corporations and said something like, “What's your mission statement for ‘The Approach’?” And we said, "Oh, it's a female-led ski film." She's like, "All right, you say female-led, I think white women." And I think, especially being in a place where I'm a white woman telling stories about disabled people and women of color, it's more important to look beyond just the gender imbalance because white women will be fine.

We will. You started the production company Mad Trees and said you were just a bunch of renegade nobodies. Does that still hold true today?

We're all very rooted in the outdoor space at this point. Ten years ago, we were in university, just goofing around and working service industry jobs in multiple ski towns, trying to build what is now a production company. But back then, I had no idea what we were working towards. So calling it a group of renegade nobodies stems from being unable to fit the mold because there were so many outing clubs and outdoor ways of being, and we didn't really fit into any of those.

We liked to be our entity and build this new space outdoors that was less exclusive and didn't revolve around the good gear you had. It was more like your best gear was whatever was on your feet and in your hands. So that's where that stemmed from. So, in a sense, we're still a bunch of renegade nobodies, but we have come a long way since then.

With your films, there's something in the air that everyone can feel the stoke and the connection among the athletes. What was it like to film with a group of friends, and were there any pros or cons?

I like filming with my friends because I can get an immersive shot that tells the story of their character and what they're like. Because I know them so well already, I know what I'm looking for in terms of shots that give people a slice of life and a window into their experience.

So much of filmmaking is character development. For instance, the show "Friends" went on for 10 seasons and was set in three locations, but it wasn't about the plot. It was about the characters. I think about that with our group because everybody is so incredible, and they're all role models for me with their attitudes, mental determination, and way of looking at the world. So that's something that I like about filming friends. I have that information already so I can document that to the best of my ability.

Photo by Leslie Hittmeier

I think you've done that pretty well! You said at the Denver world premiere of "The Approach" in 2021 that this was a passion film for you. You've directed over 60 short films. Please tell me why this one was so important and what drove that passion.

My friend Onya coined the term “Chip Fuel,” where the chip on your shoulder fuels you to go bigger and better. And I think since back in the day when I wasn't able to be in front of the camera, I was like, I'm going to get my own camera. I'm going to film my own friends, and I'm going to figure out how to make this work. So I’ve been working towards that for 10 years, and now I'm able to say, “We made ‘The Approach’ film. That's what I've been trying to do for so long.”

Would you say that "The Approach 2.0" was also born from passion? Or what was the drive behind that one?

"The Approach 2.0" was a result of all the momentum that we had from "Approach 1.0," and we sat down as a team after the film tour for "Approach." We're like, “What do we want to do next?” And then we're like, “We kind of want to do this again because we learned so much, and there's so much more we want to do in the same space. So let's just roll into another iteration of ‘The Approach.’”

Does that mean there's a “3.0” coming?

You guessed it. We have a really good time together, and we're all learning and growing. I think we're pitching this to a bigger distributor next year, so we'll keep you posted on how that goes.

I can't wait. There are so many strong, resilient and amazing female BIPOC and adaptive skiers and writers in this film, both of the films. Was it hard to choose who to include, or were those the easy choice?

We put out a ton of feelers with "Approach 1.0," and I think the original deck had 18 people with whom we wanted to do the project. I had a hard time narrowing it down, and the more, the merrier. It is hard to fit that many narratives into a shorter feature film. So we continued asking, "Who's interested in this trip?" The crew came together fairly organically. Friends of friends, Brooklyn and Sophia both live here in Bellingham, so we ski together aside from filming. Ingrid's in Washington, and she helped get this project off the ground, so she was a definite, and Vasu and I went to school together, and he was like, "I'm coming." And I said, "Yeah, you should." He replied, "Is it okay that I'm a dude?" I responded, "Yeah."

So we have a loose program and want to include more people. We're figuring out a good structure for this coming year because we fell short of having a more diverse crew behind the scenes. My goal would be to get more women of color and disabled women behind the camera. I think there are so many other cool stories in the ski space, but I'm hoping that we can at least encourage anybody who has a story that's different than what we've seen before to step up and see if they can make a film, too. Because I just love seeing all these ski films come out that are a little different.

You can't keep watching the same ski films year after year. They're fun, and there's a time and a place for them, but I agree that telling that different story makes "The Approach" and "The Approach 2.0" so special. But having created those two films with these athletes, how has it felt watching them grow and level up together?

It's so cool to watch the athletes. Even from December when we were goofing around in sled skiing last year to going to Alaska with Brooklyn, you can just see how confident she is. Her Alaska segment is mind-blowing. And Vasu and Sophia in Alaska, and even Ingrid. I've been shooting with Ingrid for a long time, maybe six years. And she was such a role model for me growing up. And then, to get her on a true “Ingy B” line this year, she has such sick skiing.

With “The Approach 2.0,” it's always been a little bit of a give and take. I've been with her [Ingrid] since she had her two kids, balancing what that means as a pro skier and a mom, watching her ease back into it, and then watching her crush it this year. Alaska was so cool to watch everybody get another chance to go up there and ride the train again because there's no way that you can get better at riding it unless you're riding it.

Absolutely. It was also incredible to see her as a family unit out there skiing with her kids. I got goosebumps at that moment. And then, whenever Sophia sent that line, Brooklyn said, "I have to go fast. I have to level up now." It was truly amazing to watch, and I'm glad you could capture that on film. What do you hope others get out of these two films?

I hope people see "The Approach" and feel empowered to try skiing for the first time or get a crew together to go out and ski with. For people interested in a career in media, I hope they can see that you can do anything. You can go out there with your camera and make movies. Of course, you need resources to get a camera, but I'm always available for help. I want people to feel encouraged to make and do something and feel empowered to tell whatever story they're interested in sharing.

Photo by Taylor Boyd

That's awesome. We have really cool things that fit in our pockets now that are getting better and better at filming, which can make this a little bit easier. But just like skiing, it is expensive to get into, but glad you're there to support the future generation. Final question. What would you say to that little girl who picked up a camera for the first time?

I think I would say to my eight-year-old self that if you like doing this, you can do it for as long as you want to. Hold on tight because this will be a whirlwind and [become] your whole life. Shooting has taken me to the coolest parts of the world. I've met the most amazing people, and I've been able to build a space for myself and a career for myself, which has felt super empowering, and everyone should do it.


Huge thank you to Anne Cleary for joining us today. Thanks for always saying yes, Anne.

The outdoor industry is not always the most inclusive space. But it’s wonderful to see it heading in the right direction. Directors like Anne give a much-needed and deserving space for athletes we haven’t seen on the big screen before to get out there and show the world who the industry is for. It’s for everyone—no skier or snowboarder left behind. I am excited to see what she will do next and who will level up in "The Approach 3.0."

I hope you felt as inspired by Anne’s story today as I have. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing “The Approach” and “The Approach 2.0”, you’re missing out! Please go see it as soon as possible. Maybe one day you could be pictured in an Anne Cleary film!

If Anne’s story inspired you to get out there and you have any questions on finding the right skis, bindings, or boots for you, you can always reach out to me or one of my fellow Ski & Snowboard Experts here on Curated. We'll be happy to help you out with free, personalized recommendations via a live chat.

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Allie Staffen, Ski Expert
Allie Staffen
Ski Expert
I’m a former ski patroller in CO who skis/snowboards 100+ days a year. I specialize in Park, Touring, All Mountain, Racing and Adaptive Skiing. I'm constantly testing out new gear!.Call me, beep me if ya wanna reach me! Let’s get you the perfect gear!
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Allie Staffen, Ski Expert
Allie Staffen
Ski Expert
I’m a former ski patroller in CO who skis/snowboards 100+ days a year. I specialize in Park, Touring, All Mountain, Racing and Adaptive Skiing. I'm constantly testing out new gear!.Call me, beep me if ya wanna reach me! Let’s get you the perfect gear!
221 Reviews
5645 Customers helped

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