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Jan 3, 2024 by Marc Peruzzi
Photograph Garrett Grove

Meet a Creative: Jordan Manley

Home Base / Vancouver, British Columbia.

Activities / Skiing, cycling, adventure travel.

Why Jordan

He is now so well established in filmmaking that he works on feature length films for years at a time, but when he looks back, the filmmaker Jordan Manley sees two careers. From high school until 2016, he was a still photographer. From that date forward he’s been an acclaimed documentary filmmaker.

As any student of Jordan’s work can tell you, though, his filmmaking is only a hard fought extension of the storytelling and shot framing he honed as a still shooter. If nature can be credited over nurture, Jordan has the gift of eye; he seems to see the world as if through a frame. In either format, Jordan’s subjects—people or settings—are presented like stand-alone works of art, each composition as intentional as brush strokes on canvas. In his films, such as the short documentary “Treeline” he created for Patagonia, these brooding, gallery-worthy images flow through your sternum and land with weight. The experience can almost feel overwhelming. But because his cinematic timing and ability to score music and dialogue is also flawless, you can’t let go of the thread.

See how the top of the tree is pointing at the cyclist? The composition allows the brain to make sense of the void that is the Yukon. Photo: Jordan Manley

Jordan was drawn to film, and now feature length film, because of the opportunity to tell longer stories. “I suppose that when I was doing photography it was more piecemeal,” he says. “With film I can see ideas through from the beginning. I didn’t get that opportunity as much in the photography that I was doing. Filmmaking is more linear. You have to collect more of those moments for a film to work. In photography you can leave a lot out and it will still feel whole—people accept that their imagination will fill in the gaps. In film, too many gaps is not acceptable. It has to make more sense. But that’s the essence of filmmaking. This struggle between how much you leave in how much you leave out. I find film more painful because of what it takes from you. It can be quite tortuous.”

Writing is similar in its choices. Here I’m choosing to leave in something worth knowing about Jordan. In 2012, just as he was transitioning from photography to filmmaking thanks to a 12-part episodic project called “The Skier’s Journey” Arc’Teryx commissioned, Jordan crashed his mountain bike and suffered a traumatic brain injury. As he recovered over three years, he found he could still shoot stills, but he wasn’t capable of committing his entire being to film. That speaks to the consumptive nature of filmmaking at Jordan’s level. Creations this powerful leave the creative wasted, as if they lost blood.

One-third sky; one-third land; one-third water. Photo: Jordan Manley

As soon as he was healthy enough, Jordan resumed the struggle, because that’s what a calling is—the inability to not do the work, even as it torments you. Maya Angelou put it better: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Jordan has stories to tell. And the work is important to him. “Some of my friends think I’m being pretentious when I say this, but with the amount of material that is out there in the world, and with the limited amount of time we have to engage with it, I think we have a responsibility not to put more crap into the world. I know that’s not always the commercial reality, and that responsibility goes all the way up and down the chain. But if we have the power, then do we have the responsibility to try to create meaningful work? I think so.”

Capturing movement in a still image is a skill that also lends itself to cinematography. Photo: Jordan Manley

If I could use one word to describe Jordan, it would be ‘attuned.’ He can hear and see things most people remain unaware of. He can then translate that in ways the rest of us can better understand or feel, through cinematography, a storyline, a photograph, or sound design. Jordan is wildly creative and one of the most dynamically skilled people I have ever known. He is a very sweet control freak and always treats people with the utmost respect, causing harm to no one but himself with such tendencies.

Laura Yale Producer
Tuned in to backlit snowflakes. Photo: Jordan Manley
On location in China for the film "Treeline." Photo: Garrett Grove

What's Next

Jordan is in the midst of a multi-year, feature documentary project. The film is about the revival of ancient Polynesian way-finding.

Specialized Skills

Jordan describes himself as a control freak. As such he’s adept at every aspect of filmmaking—and can have a hard time letting go. But he’s getting better at it.

Photo: Jordan Manley