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The women of ‘Esperanto’

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New TGR summer film highlights biking as unifier

By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR

BOZEMAN – Twelve-year-old Sophie Gregory has a smile that could charm the best of them, but when she hops on her bike in Virgin, Utah, for the filming of Teton Gravity Research’s “Esperanto” mountain bike film, her sweet demeanor falls behind in the red dust as she rips down a steep, loose line, a blur of pink gear and long, brown hair.

At the bottom of her ride, Gregory high fives three other female riders.

“I never really get to ride with girls at all,” Gregory said in a July 12 interview. “It was fun to just ride with girls and my heroes,” she said.

Gregory is one of seven female riders featured in “Esperanto,” which premieres in Bozeman on July 14 at The Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture. TGR’s summer bike film is spun around the concept of its namesake, Esperanto, a language invented in the 1800s intended to be a global unifier. Biking isn’t a traditional language in the same sense, but it is a common thread that ties the film’s international segments and its diverse athletes together; a language comprised of shared experiences, physical sensation and passion.  

In 50 minutes, “Esperanto” takes viewers on a ride around the world, from Zambia to Ecuador, and several places in between.

The Utah segment features five female riders: Blake Hansen, Brooke Anderson, Chelsea Kimball, Hannah Bergemann, Samantha Soriano and Sophie Gregory.

“[An] impressive roster of female athletes holds down leading roles in this film,” said “Esperanto” writer and director Jeremy Grant.

All from various backgrounds and at different stages in their lives and careers, the women share the same ridges and lines in the film, united by a sort of Esperanto.

Mountain biker Hannah Bergemann clears a drop in Virgin, Utah while filming for Teton Gravity Research’s “Esperanto.” PHOTO COURTESY OF TGR

“I think one of the cool things we noticed about our segment is that there’s a huge age gap and we’re all from different places,” said Bergemann, 25. “And [it’s] one example of how the bikes can bring people together, regardless of differences that we might have.”

While it’s novel for a film to feature so many powerhouse female athletes in a male-dominated sport, the Utah segment is far from a token clip.

In an on-camera interview, Kimball jokes that she’s tired of seeing women athletes in films talking so much. “I just want to see riding,” she says before the film cuts to a shot of her dropping a huge sandstone and dirt shelf.

Virgin is a classic venue for freeride mountain biking, but it’s not for the faint hearted. The dramatic landscape is pure desert riding, defined by its massive mesas and steep, exposed ridges.

“You have to be very mentally strong to ride out in Virgin because of the severity of the terrain,” Soriano said. “Things can go wrong in an instant and you have to be on you’re A-game.”

If one thing’s clear through the montage of riding clips, it’s that these women brought their best to Virgin.

“Having … six girls, not only … just six random mountain bikers but six super solid riders was super motivating,” Soriano, 21, said.

Anderson, 15, agreed, adding that during filming they built off each other’s passion. “I feel like the energy is completely different with our group just because it’s all girls,” she said. “We all understand everything, we all go through the same things in the sport.”

One of those shared experiences, according to Anderson: being underestimated as a female athlete.

This cultural stereotype was left behind, they all agree, when the women were filming in Utah. One shot shows Anderson launching off a jump, nothing but blue sky in the background, as Gregory watches with wonder.

While the film is heavily focused on biking in general as a unifier, these female riders demonstrate that perhaps another language exists. To the trailhead, they bring with them their experiences of being discounted as a woman, but also their high fives, their cheers, their stoke and their love for the sport.  

After ripping her line, Gregory softens again and her charming smile returns as she celebrates with her fellow riders.

She has one wish for those watching her shred in this film: “I hope that some little girl out there goes and she rides her bike and she has fun,” she said.

“Esperanto” premieres at The Emerson on July 14 at 6:30 p.m. Find more information here.

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