For the Better: An Interview with Jess Kimura on “The Uninvited II”

We caught up with Jess Kimura and her involvement with The Uninvited II.

For the Better: An Interview with Jess Kimura on “The Uninvited II”

We caught up with Jess Kimura and her involvement with The Uninvited II.

January 14, 2021
Words By Jon Stark Interviews
Photo by Aaron Blatt

How are you doing?

I'm good. I am good. I feel like I've just been on a conveyor belt since we started editing the movie in May. So yeah, here we are. 

I mean, it's over right? 

Yes. I mean, no it isn’t. I think I felt the most stress once it actually came out. Trying to make sure that the press requests were taken care of, or following through on making all the deliverables to different specifications and all that stuff so that we could maximize our reach. I wanted to make the most of the work we had done and get as many eyes on the girls as possible. It’s been a lot, being on Zoom meetings all day and trying to figure out a plan, while also trying to help the girls navigate the success of their parts, like negotiating contracts and dealing with sponsors, or pitching other things for their upcoming season. 

The Secret Agent?

Yeah, secret agent stuff. 

The job’s not really done once the video is complete; there’s a lot that goes into promoting isn’t there?

I was like, “I just have to make it to this release date, then it's all over.” But when I got to that date, it all began. That's when I really wasn't sleeping, but it's fine. That's part of it, but if I do another one, I'm going to remember that—not to see the release date as my end date. I totally know how filmmakers must feel. You put that much energy into something, and you have nothing left once it comes out—that feeling of, “I should be doing more, but I just can't. I just can't; I'm empty, you know?” I’m also trying to plan my own season and go enjoy snowboarding for myself, but I feel guilty some days, like I should be at home answering emails instead.

Jess giving herself a refresher course on geology | photo by Ashley Rosemeyer

Yeah. It's a lot of pressure on this single person's shoulders, for sure. You kind of made it your personal obligation to represent the next generation of female snowboarders. 

Ha! I guess. It was very stressful. Some days, I was so stressed I thought I was going to throw up; I would feel physically sick over it all. The first [Uninvited film] was worse because it was all on my dime, like it was all from my savings. And when you see your money burning in front of you, that’s tough. Say you take someone on a trip, and they don't care that much or don't try. Or when people show up late to stuff, and you’re like, you guys, this is all we have. I just felt like some people didn't understand the opportunity that it was and how much I was sacrificing for it. My mental, emotional, and financial wellbeing were basically crushed by the time I finished the premiere tour.

I can relate to taking it personally when riders wouldn’t do their part and all the pressure is on your shoulders.

It was really stressful—not because I care about the money a whole bunch, but when I was coming up, if someone would have done that for me, I know how much further I would have gone, with much less suffering. It’s like a parent seeing their kid throwing away their potential. Because you can see the future, you're like, “Come on, I’m giving you a head start! You can do better than I did.”

Things felt a little bit better with number two?

Yeah, definitely. Before we dropped our teaser in the fall, I don’t think that anyone really understood what it was going to be. But I think the riders had seen what the first one did for the girls’ careers, so they took it more seriously. Once they see people “like them” succeed, it becomes a possibility they can see for themselves.

Yeah. I mean, I've seen it personally, if you take the right person and put them in the position to be successful, then you literally just sit back and watch history being made. 

Totally. I remember Ylfa [Rúnarsdóttir] being so stoked she had shots in the first one. She was freaking out about that, saying how good it felt to have clips in something and to be recognized. She took that and turned it into the part she filmed this year. And you can see the shift of energy. Watching her part now, it blows my mind to think that her talent could have gone unrecognized. Same with Miyon. I got a message from her once saying how she felt like quitting filming before The Uninvited, that she felt lonely and didn’t know her purpose. When you see her part in the sequel, her purpose is pretty damn clear.

Premiere night for the first Uninvited video in Whistler | photo by Rob Lemay

This is so exciting to see. I personally feel that women's snowboarding is more exciting to watch than another dude doing the same trick.

Yeah. Because you're watching the progression in real time. It's basically like watching snowboarding in the nineties or when like street snowboarding first started being a thing. 

That's so true. I've never thought of it like that—the idea that you have no idea what's coming next because you're watching it unfold as you're watching the video. 

Like I’ve heard you say, “I had no idea, these girls were capable of this stuff”—there are so many chicks out there killing it that people have no idea about. And oftentimes, the girls don’t even realize how much they are capable of themselves, because they’ve never even been put in a position where they had the opportunity to find out. And they haven’t seen much proof that it’s possible for them. That's why it's important for them to be seen, to be included, and for people not to write them off because they aren’t at the same level as the guys. 

It’s like being a part of the renaissance era of female snowboarding.

With the first Uninvited, I definitely got some negative feedback. I didn't take full control over the end product, and there were things I would have changed. But it was the best we could do with what we had, which was basically nothing. 

But because some aspects weren’t at the highest production level, I got some negative feedback. Even some of the riders were bummed because they wanted a longer part or didn’t like the lifestyle shots we used. And that hurt my feelings since I had poured so much into it. But feelings grow back. And I see now how that was part of the process in getting these new girls to where they are at right now—having something tangible to look at and see what their peers have done. Even if it wasn’t perfect. What could they do better? And what's next? 

Snowboarders are pretty hypercritical of each other.

I love comparing girls’ snowboarding to boxing or MMA. The heavyweight division definitely can hit the hardest, so does that mean the other divisions aren’t worth watching? Pretty sure Connor McGregor wouldn’t agree. Just because the heavyweight guys are the biggest and strongest doesn’t mean they are the most exciting to watch.

I just remember people being like, “Oh, you want equality? Do all the equivalent tricks that the guys are doing, then we'll give you equality.” I've heard that so many times. So if they're going to discredit everything that we're doing, because it's not at their exact level, then we're never going to get there. And that’s probably what they want anyways. But what's happening underneath the surface is too big for anyone to stop. I really believe that. 

Jess taking on the world, one backcountry line at a time. Whistler, BC | photo by Brad Heppner

I can only imagine all the things you've heard and seen. But it’s about representation at the end of the day. That's the most powerful. 

I think about how much Marie-France [Roy]'s video parts basically shaped my entire career because it showed me what was possible for myself. Even before then, seeing Tara Dakides and Janna Meyen. I would replay any shots they had over and over and over. When I was a kid, one of my favorite things was the Burton catalog because they had a women's section. They would have pictures of girls riding. I wasn't looking at the product; I was looking at pictures of girls shredding, and I would seek that stuff out, desperately. But when Marie-France’s video parts came out, she was portrayed as an equal part of the team with the guys. She didn’t have a two-second cameo in the credits. Her name was on the DVD case! “Does that mean I could one day have my name on a DVD case?”

That was exactly the inspiration you needed right there. 

As a girl, coming up, if I watched guys video parts, it was like watching a different species. Like, I guess I wanted to do something like that, but I never thought I'd be able to. So to me, representation is more about seeing yourself represented, or seeing someone like you doing the thing that you are passionate about. When a baby watches the adults around them speaking words and walking on two feet, they eventually try to speak words and walk on two feet. A puppy doesn’t watch people walking on two feet and think, “Shit, I guess that’s where I should be headed too, and I’m gonna stop barking and start speaking.” Well, maybe… haha.

With the first Uninvited, those girls saw, “Oh, if I hustle, this is finally going to be worth something.” There have been so many girls that were so good, but they had no reason to keep doing it unless they're absolutely insane because why would you? You're blowing all your money, you are getting hurt, your parents are like WTF are you doing with your life? And there’s no payoff, just a bunch of internet trolls or bitter guys talking shit saying, “You girls are a joke, my little brother is better than all of you.” 

You are literally giving them that opportunity. 

I know there were girls who wanted to give up, saying, “I need to go back to school” or “I need to move on.” And me being like, “Yo, what are you doing this year? If you can't hire a filmer, I'll hire one for you.” That gave them confidence. So you never know what kind of influence you're having on people around you. I mean, successful people rarely consider themselves successful, and you have no idea how those little things can stick with people. 

Yeah, of course. 

Believing in someone or giving someone a chance can be so important. I ended up editing the movie, and I'm not an editor. I was so insecure in my skills and ability to pull it off that I was almost going to bail on the whole project or push it to a two-year project. But I sent some stuff to you almost hoping that you were going to agree with me and be like, “Yeah, it's not quite there yet, you shouldn’t put it out this year.”

And you, being an established and successful filmmaker, having your like approval or you giving me the time of day—because you don't know how many people I sent links to that never even answered me, but you did—that gave me the confidence to start thinking, “Oh, maybe we got something here.”

Believing in someone is the first step to an creating opportunity | photo by Alexa McCarty

It’s full circle. You gave me the first free lift ticket I ever got. You paid for it at Mount Hood.

Haha, I did?

To go on-hill to film you. I never forgot that. I was hiking up the mountain with my camera bag to just film, to practice filming. And you bought me my first lift ticket, and you're like, “You're going to come film me.” I’m trying not to forget how I felt going into all this and to remember the people who helped me along the way. And so when you sent me these parts, it wasn't like I was blowing hot air. We're in an ecosystem in snowboarding. And when you put something negative out into the world, there's an effect that kind of spreads. And if you can put good things into the world, then good things are gonna happen. There are people who complain and do nothing, and there are people who do something about it and try and spread positivity, and that's all I've ever tried to do, especially recently with Torment.

I agree, 100%. I feel real satisfaction from just giving stuff away—my time, my money, whatever. And maybe that comes from some sense of feeling like I don’t deserve what I've gotten, but I want to set an example. Not just through my snowboarding, but through everything. What could you do if you were just a ridiculously kind person? Like doing real selfless things when no one's looking and when nobody knows about it.

Whether it be in front of the lens, or behind the camera, Jess will always be in our hearts | photo by Mike Yoshida

Well, coming up, you're fighting for a piece of the cake, trying to make a case for yourself. And then it's almost like as you get older the switch flips and all of a sudden you get the same satisfaction from riding away from a trick as you do extending an opportunity to someone. 

Totally, totally. I always just wanted to do the shit that no one else would be willing to do. And at first, it was snowboarding—huck myself off this, hike this thing one more time, stay out later riding, or go out while everyone's sleeping and build the spot. Now I go out while everyone's sleeping and look for funding for the girls or go through their segment frame by frame, looking for small ways I can improve it, or write them motivational emails or write to their sponsors, you know? 

Yeah. And do you keep yourself going by posting memes?

Haha, the memes started during quarantine in the initial lockdown where we were all on our phones too much trying to figure out what was going on. There was so much negativity and fear that I needed to switch gears. I unfollowed a bunch of accounts that were stressing me out. If I needed facts I sure wasn’t going to find them on Instagram. I started following a bunch of cat accounts, certain dogs that I liked, memes, ridiculous stuff—whatever made me laugh. I started reposting stuff because I thought it would be funny if people were clicking through the stories and it’s like, “imminent death is upon us,” or, “don’t be one of the sheeple,” and then they get to mine and its goats screaming along to Taylor Swift songs, or dogs wearing sunglasses, or a frog with a raspberry on its head. It’s definitely gotten out of hand, in a good way. I’m positive nobody laughs harder at my stories than me.

Jess' method to the madness | photo by Ashley Rosemeyer

What else makes you happy these days? 

My sauna is huge for me. It represents healing. Whereas, so much else in my life has been a painful experience. This one’s for me. I put a lot of work into building it, and it’s like a little cabin in my backyard. I like harvesting wood, splitting wood, looking for different wood, appreciating aspects of wood, you know, all the densities. You could say I have a passion for wood. 

And you get to sweat out the stress. One of the beautiful things about snowboarding is that if you do something different, everyone pays attention. Whether it's good or bad, if you do something different, everyone notices.

When the first movie came out, it wasn’t embraced by the industry like the second one was. I don’t think people were at that place yet. They were still demanding that the girls and the production value be at the same level as the guys and didn’t care to hear why it wasn’t. But now, it’s almost trending, to be inclusive, to embrace diversity. But it’s something I’ve been working on for years. Way before The Uninvited was officially a thing. This recent shift that’s happening with social awareness and all of that, people are finally ready to accept that it’s okay to include others, maybe even necessary. So in a way, it’s like I invested early in Apple stock. And now it’s finally worth something. And same with you guys at Torment. Many people are pretending to care about this stuff right now because they think they need to come off as social justice warriors in order to benefit their career. But it’s not genuine. Those are the people that are trying to get in the market when it’s too late. All this time putting effort into something that people thought was useless, and now seeing folks scramble to catch up; it’s a bit vindicating. 

Yeah, you were always right.

Of course, we aren’t talking about actual profits here, because we all know ain’t nobody getting rich off snowboarding these days. But I felt like it was a similar situation with what you did with Torment Pride Week—everyone in snowboarding attached to that. But maybe five years ago those same people wouldn’t have been as supportive.

Jess investing early into the Bank of Powder. Revelstoke | photo by Nick Khattar

We knew our friends had something to say and weren’t able to be themselves in our community, which is the wackest shit ever. We had the platform to do it, so it was a no-brainer. 

Totally. That's genuine. And that comes across. What you guys are doing feels like it’s adding meaning to something that has had no meaning to me for so long. I've checked out of snowboarding for a long time because I just felt like—especially after Mark died—there was this emptiness. And I needed to do something that mattered. I made The Uninvited, and yeah, it helped a lot of people, but it also helped me because it gave me some sense of purpose. We need meaning in our lives, and I'm glad I found it again in snowboarding because for a long time, I was like, “What's this even for? I do a bunch of tricks and people look at me and say ‘yay.’” What is that? 

There aren't many people in your position who have filmed video parts that turn around and give it back. It’s just a fact, and it's kind of beautiful that you've found it again. We need better leaders in this, so we can make a difference. 

Well, if you don't go through it, you have no idea what it feels like to be on the shitty end. There have been situations in my career where I've been treated really badly. And when people hear about that, they can't believe it went down and that nobody said anything about it and nobody stood up for me. But if I hadn't been treated like that, I wouldn't have had such a deep understanding that basically scarred me into never wanting to do that to others. I mean, I worked construction for so many years; I had thick skin. But I was worried about what was coming for these girls. And hold up, before I go too far, I want to make sure I say that I know there are people with serious life-threatening issues and difficulties in the world. I'm focusing just on the snowboarding space here.

Have you ever had someone you looked up to in snowboarding come through for you?

When I first moved to Whistler, I was 23. I had lost my only board sponsor. I was going nowhere. I told myself I should quit, that this wasn't going to happen. But I had filmed for this video my friend Troy made, and it was premiering in Whistler. I hit up Marie-France Roy on—the MySpace for boarders back then. She was my absolute hero. I was like, “Hey Marie, my name is Jess, and I'm your biggest fan. I'm in this video. It'd be really cool if you came to the premiere. I'm going to leave a ticket for you at the front. Um, I hope to see you there.” I thought there was no way she’d show up. It's like when Ricky Bobby always leaves a ticket for his dad, and he never shows up.

Amongst the comforts of the great outdoors | photo by Chris Parton

And… Did she show?

She fucking showed up, dude! She showed up, and then she came to the house party after and was one of the last people to leave. I could not believe that she was even being seen with me! She didn't know me. She didn't have any reason to be there. She was at the top of the game and could have been with someone way cooler. But that stuck with me forever. The fact that she made me feel worthy of her time. And I’ve felt the opposite during so much in my career—people making sure I knew that I was not worthy of their time, or that I didn’t deserve to be there. And that was burned into me, like, if you're gonna make it big, you gotta be like this, you know, you gotta be like her. 

Yeah, it’s the importance of good role models. I mean, we are who we look up to. And if the person you look up to is a piece of shit, you might be one too.

And I've had to change who I looked up to sometimes. 

Yeah, they say never meet your heroes. I’ve felt that a couple of times where I'm like, “I shouldn't have met that person or I shouldn't have gone on that trip. That person could have just stayed as their four-minute video part from 11 years ago.”

Yeah. Just remained in ignorance and bliss.

There's something to be said there too—that life is about a balance of all these things that we've discussed. 

Totally. When I was working on finishing The Uninvited II, people would ask me what I was up to. I just would say I had shit to do. Because when I told them I needed to work on the movie some more, they'd be like, “Still? I thought you were finished by now.” And I was like, “Yeah, but I wake up in the middle of the night and go back downstairs to go through piece by piece to see if there is anything I can improve." I wanted these girls to look the best they can. I was so used to being shit on for stuff I couldn’t control, so I wanted to try and get ahead of that. But it’s also probably this toxic addiction to just destroying myself over what I’m passionate about. 

A moment of bliss on set of the Uninvited 2 | photo by Gill Montgomery

I said something to a friend who makes films too, “I can't live with snowboard films and I can't live without snowboard films.”

Sure, sure. The girls, they will confide in me, some really difficult things that happen throughout their season. And I want to be like, “Yo dude, that sucks. I can't believe that happened to you,” but also tell them that it’s actually a gift. And they probably think I'm absolutely insane when I tell them this horrible thing that happened to them was actually a good thing. But everything bad that happens to us is a gift because it gives us a new way of looking at things. It shows us what things look like when they go badly so we can notice how much we already have that is actually going well. Maybe even a year later it still sucks. But the worst things that have happened to me in my life have been the biggest catalysts for my life changing for the better. Go back in time and tell me that, and I guarantee you I’ll punch you in the face, haha.

Vinny [Dan Vincent] used to say that life is all about perspective, in a Vinny way with like a Marb 100 dangling off his lip. And after everything we've said here, maybe the reality is that sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is the gift of perspective. What’s next for you and The Uninvited?

I’m going to make the third and final one this winter. Complete the trilogy. The talent is at an all-time high, and I can’t wait to see what the girls can achieve with the boost of confidence this last film gave them. By then, hopefully the industry will have gotten the point and can pick up where I left off. As for me, I’ll be filming a few clips for The Uninvited, but my main focus riding-wise will be something I’m cooking up with The North Face. They were the biggest supporters of this last film and are the reason I’m able to make this next one happen. Then they back it up by investing in projects for their own women's team. I’m not trying to suck up to anyone or anything; it's just really nice to see a company put their money where their mouth is. It’s been really frustrating dealing with some of the girls’ sponsors, who are basically getting free marketing for their riders paid for from my savings, my sponsors, my travel budget. And all I’m asking is, “Support your rider here and there, help them with a hotel or plane ticket, or splitting a filmer’s travel expenses with me for just one trip. Or maybe just reply to the girls’ emails.” It’s like pulling teeth sometimes. Hopefully by the time this third film drops, they will be seeing more clearly. 

What have you learned from the past videos that will make this next one different from the others?

That if you give too much, you end up with the equivalent of spoiled kids. The girls need to want it for themselves, and natural talent or good style is only part of the equation. Some of them haven’t been starving for long enough to understand hunger or why they need to have it. I started out wanting to prevent them from having to go through the shitty things I had to deal with coming up. But it’s only now that I’m realizing what a valuable experience all those setbacks were. By being treated badly, I learned how I wanted to treat others. I learned that I’m not the only thing going on in this world, and I learned how to work hard, not just on the snow but off of it too. So it’s a balance. Helping them to find success but also letting them learn from their own mistakes instead of trying to jump in right away to fix everything.