Thursday, May 26

‘A pure moment of being’: inside the excitement and danger of skiing from the cliffs | Documentary films

TThe moments skier Matthias Giraud lives for are a blink on the screen, less than a quarter the length of a standard play button. Over and over in Super Frenchie, a new documentary covering the career of the exuberant French ski base jumper, Giraud dives to the top of an otherwise barren mountain, navigates a cliff, jumps, and launches into parachute away from certain death in seconds. with the grace and fluidity of a dancer.

The gentle brevity of Giraud’s stunts belies the many devastating risks of his chosen calling and the precision of his lines. Too slow take off and you may not have time to deploy the parachute. Knocked off a line, and a ski could get tied up on the ramp. Stronger winds than expected, and it could blow directly into a rock wall at highway speeds.

All that risk, for two or three seconds of transcendence, a sense of enhanced mental acuity and absolutely maximum perceptual ability that Giraud described as “the highest state of feeling for my human potential.”

“It really feels like being able to maximize your existence,” he told The Guardian. “You almost have a sense of omnipresence. You are a little aware of everything around you, you see the ground running towards you, you can even hear or feel the parachute pins opening in the backpack. “

Skiing base jumping, started in the late 1990s, combines two extreme sports: steep, high-altitude alpine skiing and base jumping, the recreational sport of jumping from fixed objects and parachuting to the ground, an acronym for four types of launch pads: buildings, antennas (radio masts), spans (bridges) and land (cliffs). Giraud, a lifelong skier, first got into base jumping after moving to the US in his early 20s. Combining the two seemed like the devilish next step, a way to access steep slopes that the non-parachute skier makes completely inaccessible to the non-parachute skier because of their 100-foot drop.

“For me, it’s the height of life,” Giraud said of the ski base jumping. “You have this increased sense of precision while being completely serene at the same time. It is not a strange combination, I think it is the state that we all try to look for in life, but rarely experience. It’s really a pure moment of being. “

Super Frenchie traces more than a decade of Giraud’s career, from his first ski base jump at Mount Hood in Oregon to a near-fatal accident in 2012, just days before the birth of his son. Like Free Solo, the Oscar-winning documentary about the ropeless ascent of rock climber Alex Honnold from El Capitan de Yosemite in 2017, Super Frenchie balances breathtaking footage of death-defying athletic feats with anchors on the ground: the attraction. of family and loved ones both to support and to struggle against the risk compulsion.

Giraud, who met director Chase Ogden in 2007 when they were both 24 years old and filming for a local outdoor sports show in Spokane, Washington, is charming and effervescent in intimate home images throughout Super Frenchie, often Unfailingly enthusiastic to the point of naivety about the Risks of extreme sports: “the fear of death is not a valid excuse to give up on your dreams,” he says at one point in the film.

The film lightly touches on the deeper motivations for Giraud’s seemingly pathological compulsion to attempt death-defying stunts, but suggests that his calling was in part an escape from troubles at home, at least as a child in Évreux in Normandy. . He describes his mother, who appears in the film, as “authoritarian” and “manipulative.” He describes the suicide of his older sister when he was 18 years old as a devastating tragedy that pushed him deeper into activities full of vitality: “her death made me more alive, in a way,” he says.

What starts out as a collage of high-octane stunts turns into a comeback story: In 2012, an unexpected wind struck Giraud against a rock wall seconds after he skied at Pointe d’Areu, near Mont Blanc, a collision captured by one of its cameras as it falls on the rocks below. The collision shattered Giraud’s femur and rendered him unconscious; The movie from a helicopter watching the jump follows the parachute that carried his unconscious body to a field miles away.

Matthias Giraud in Super Frenchie
Photography: Greenwich

Giraud was in a coma for three days with a brain hemorrhage. Upon awakening, “I immediately thought, ‘I want to go back and do this mountain,'” Giraud said. The second half of Super Frenchie captures the balance of recovery, a new commitment to a previous goal, parenting, and free time with his wife, Joann Park Giraud, at their home in Bend, Oregon.

Six years later, Giraud successfully completed a euphoric ski base jump from the mountain that nearly killed him, after writing a letter to his son not to return from the Alps. Although the repeated jumps in Super Frenchie – too many to count – are dependable and flawless, desensitizing the viewer to the huge stakes of the content, the preparation is more than justified in a world of extreme sports marred by constant losses, regardless of experience. Giraud’s own mentor, ski base pioneer Shane McConkey, died at age 39 while attempting a wingsuit ski base jump in the Italian Dolomites in 2009.

The risks inherent in the sport he chose, barely evaded in 2012, often draw criticism that Giraud is selfish, unnecessarily brazen on mortality, especially as a husband and father. Her own mother criticizes the film: “I’m not proud,” she says. “I respect what he does, but it is also quite selfish.”

It is a position that Giraud deals with frequently in the film, as he marries and becomes a father, and is also between 24 and 30 years old. But at 37, he’s more optimistic about pursuing self-actualization as a defining goal. “Let’s face it, you have to have a certain element of selfishness to be self-actualizing,” he said. “I’m always walking that edge between doing all I can for my loved ones, but also realizing myself as an individual and maximizing my own existence, because if you don’t do it yourself, who else will you do it for? you?”

A frame of Super Frenchie
Photography: Greenwich

“Personally, I don’t think what he’s doing is selfish,” Ogden, the film’s director, told The Guardian. “It’s crucial to who he is, his identity as an individual, and I don’t think he could be a good parent and a good provider and that sort of thing if he wasn’t living like he is.”

Giraud’s capacity for risk-based adrenaline has not diminished – he’s gotten into big wave surfing and has several overseas ski base trips planned now that Covid-19 restrictions are easing in many countries. . “I don’t know how I’m going to stop jumping,” he said. “It would have to be if I don’t really have a wish anymore, or if I’m too beaten up to move on.”

The vast majority of viewers, of course, won’t be cliff skiing anytime soon, or will hopefully give it a go without the years of training and preparation that Super Frenchie has observed for nearly a decade. But Giraud hopes that takeout isn’t so much adrenaline rush as stretching personal capacity for what’s possible. “I don’t necessarily want anyone to jump off a cliff. That’s not the smartest thing to do, ”he laughed. “But I really hope that people feel empowered to live up to their own standards.”

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