"One For All"

This still from “One For All” features U.S. Army Purple Heart recipient Tony Drees who, after having his leg amputated up to his hip, took up a passion for skiing. The short documentary will make its world premiere on Sunday at the 5Point Adventure Film Festival, as part of the Changemakers Film Program.

When local filmmaker Spencer Miller first met Tony Drees, he knew he had a story on his hands. 

Drees is a United States Army Purple Heart amputee. The veteran survived a scud-missile attack on his barracks while serving in the 1991 Gulf War, during which time the flesh was stripped from his thighs and his right femur was fractured. Following numerous surgeries and eventually the development of cancer in his leg, Dree had his right leg amputated at the hip in 2018. 

In the years since his recovery, Drees — who is now 55 years old — has become a WarFighter Sports ambassador, motivational speaker, philanthropist and an avid skier. 

Miller first met Drees last ski season. He was working for Aspen Skiing Co. to do a special Valentine’s Day write-up on how Drees met his wife at a Challenge Aspen veterans’ ski clinic two years prior, in 2020. 

Miller recalled that he and Drees had planned to meet at 8:30 in the morning at Aspen’s Gondola Plaza. He said he strolled up to find Drees already standing at the top of the plaza stairs in his ski gear, smiling and hollering an enthusiastic introduction. 

“Right then, his charisma hit, and I was like, OK, we have a story on our hands,” Miller said. “This is a guy that has every reason to be angry at the world, yet the way he greeted me on that day, and the way that he treats everyday he gets to go skiing, you know, is somebody who considers himself still to be vastly fortunate … and I wanted to share that.” 

Following their first encounter, Miller set out to tell Drees’ story. He reached out to Michael CB Stevens, an award-winning director with whom Miller had worked on previous film projects, and told him the idea for a short documentary on Drees. 

Without any initial funding, the two would go on to make the film, and they did so in the span of a little over nine months — their due date was the 2023 5Point Adventure Film Festival. 

This weekend, Miller and Stevens’ short documentary on Drees will make its world premiere at the 5Point Film Festival. The 20-minute film, titled “One For All,” is screening in the festival’s Changemakers Film Program from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at the Carbondale Recreation Center. 

“One For All” is also a recipient of the 5Point Film Fund, a grant program sponsored by NRS that supports select filmmakers each year who are challenging the storytelling status quo. 

Stevens said that from the onset, the making of this film has been a labor of love and a passion project for him and Miller. He explained how in the midst of the filmmaking process, they reached out to 5Point about their project to see if they could get funding, and the organization believed in it, he said, making them one of this year’s fund recipients. 

“Honestly, if it weren’t for 5Point, I mean, I think Spencer and I both would agree that this film would never have happened because that became like the catalyst; we knew we had a due date,” Stevens said. “And it's kind of insane that we were able to get it done, you know, but it was really apparent to me that this was a story that needed — needed — to get out, and we're over the moon with it.” 

In addition to interview segments with Drees — which the filmmakers shot in June — and archival footage and images of his experiences, “One For All” follows Drees throughout this ski season as he works toward attempting to do a backflip. 

 But the film is not about the one-legged skier setting out to do a backflip, Miller said; it’s about Drees himself and the way he approaches each day with grace and gratitude, despite all of the tragedies and traumas he’s endured, the filmmaker said. 

It’s a perspective that audiences could learn from, Miller continued, and he and Stevens aspired to capture Drees’ perspective and his inspirational essence in “One For All.” Miller said he believes that the documentary, as a storytelling medium in general, has the power to as such. 

“You know, Mike and I are both white filmmakers, and Tony is a Black skier with one leg — like we don't have that much in common with him other than the fact that we ski,” Miller said. “But we wanted to bring his perspective out, especially to a ski town, you know, to a place like Aspen, because we saw value in what he thinks and what he sees out on the hill and just out in society, as well.”

Miller added the handful of initiatives and programs that Drees has been involved with and continues to push forward when it comes to improving access to skiing for people who have disabilities. He said he hopes the film will also help to spread awareness in that regard. 

Stevens added that when you talk to Drees, you realize how much goes into a day of getting on the ski hill — from finding a parking spot that’s flat and not too icey so that his wheelchair won’t roll away or slip, to maneuvering the base of the mountain while carrying his single ski. 

Of the many messages presented in the film and present in Drees’ life story, both Stevens and Miller expressed how one of the takeaways they hope viewers recognize is that: You never know what someone has been through. 

“In the [film’s] editing process, every time I’d leave a session, I literally would just walk around being like, you don't know what other people are holding,” Stevens said. “And I think that's a really important takeaway from this.” 

“I've been interested in telling people's tales for quite some time now. Tony Drees is a great example of it,” Miller said. “I think my takeaway would be just to try and think about the people out there and their experiences — you know, not just on a ski hill but going through life — you just really don't know what the other person has been through.” 

“One For All” will premiere on Sunday at the Carbondale Recreation Center, as part of 5Point Adventure Film Festival’s Changemakers program. Tickets to the Changemakers screening are $30 and can still be purchased at aspenshowtix.com

Jacqueline Reynolds is an arts & entertainment reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at jacqueline@aspendailynews.com.