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In 2014, trail runner and filmmaker Joel Wolpert visited the Apostle Islands, on the shore of Lake Superior in upper Wisconsin. “It was mobbed in summer, pretty touristy,” he says. “We got to chatting with a local and she said that winter is really the time to come. The crowds don’t exist and the ice caves are in.”
Later that summer, Wolpert saw Rickey Gates, a top mountain runner (and Trail Runner contributing editor) at a race in Montana. Gates told him that he was moving to Madison, Wisconsin.
“It made sense from there,” says Wolpert, whose latest film, “Outside Voices,” follows around the well-known (and colorful) ultrarunner Jenn Shelton. The area had great potential for a short film: “The ice caves sounded cool. They’re these rock caves on Lake Superior with water floors and ceiling seeps,” he says. “And no one seems to bother setting adventure films in the Midwest.”
For the caves to be accessible, the winter temps need to be cold enough and sustained enough to freeze the lake to its southern shore. That’s only happened twice in the last 10 years, according to Gates.
“We got lucky with the weather being very, very cold,” he says. “When it dropped below zero for a decent period of time, Joel called me up and asked if I was still keen on heading up there.”
The result is “There on the Periphery,” a quirky five-minute-long short film set to the music of Sylvan Esso. Gates, dressed in a massive amount of down, runs, dances, slides, spins and sleds on an ice block across the frozen surface of Lake Superior, then breaks out his accordion in a low cave. Interspersed are close-ups of icicles bristling from the ceiling like the branches of a succulent. The film ends with a gorgeous pink sunset over the lake.
Why make it a music video? “It was cold, so we did a lot of dancing to stay warm,” says Wolpert. “I film by gut feelings, hence the accordion and the sideways shots. They felt right at the time.”
“I think we need more music in our lives,” says Gates. “It’s a good way to pass the time, meet new people and make it seem like it’s not -10.”