In the breathtaking new feature length documentary, THE FREE MAN, Olympic freestyle skier Jossi Wells spends time with the Flying Frenchies in search of the ultimate adventure, thousands of metres above the ground.
The Flying Frenchies have established a reputation for their incredible, terrifying stunts, having progressed from skydiving and BASE jumping to slacklining and highlining (tightrope walking at extreme heights without being harnessed to the line), including highlining between one hot air balloon and another.
Shot in New Zealand and France, the film offers a rare insight into the story of men who push themselves to the point of no return, embracing the fact that any moment at the top of a peak or on the face of a cliff could be their last.
Culture Trip spoke to two members of the Flying Frenchies, Antoine Moineville and Viloane Garros.
CT: Your stunts mix adrenaline with serenity, is that balance important?
FF: You have to mix your excitement with the safety elements. Our goals are always to achieve something that is poetic and aesthetically beautiful. When you push your limits you have to be sure you can control the technical things. You can’t control everything, but you have be lucid and be able to adapt to the situation. In these situations, if you prepare your mind amid the pressures, if you can manage the adrenaline rush, then you can enjoy it.
CT: What is it that you get from your stunts — emotionally, physically and mentally — that makes the serious risk worth it?
FF: Doing this things makes you feel present; you feel totally alive. There’s a great deal of beauty that comes from doing something collectively, with everyone sharing this strong focus together. When you’re in a team, you share emotion and safety, trusting every single person in the job that they’re doing. There’s a huge amount of stress, but with each experience you know your limits, and when you’re in the present you are at your best. When you finish, and the stress goes, you are left with something more in your mind and your body, and you have created memories.
CT: Would you encourage and teach others to do what you do, despite the risks involved?
FF: It’s funny you asking this now because my younger brother has done skydiving for years and wants to do BASE jumping, but I don’t want him to. We obviously take a lot of risks in our stunts, but any dream involves risk. Trying to realize a dream is not easy. You have to work hard, you have to fight, you to use your brain to anticipate all the small things. You also have to accept that you can’t control things. We want to share what we do with everyone, so how can we tell them not to do it? Do these things but do them bit by bit. Learn something small, get good at it, be comfortable doing it, then do something a bit harder, and repeat the process. Take baby steps. We do this because we want to feel alive, but to feel alive, you have to stay alive.
CT: How do you choose what stunts to do next? Are there any specific requirements that you look for that define a Flying Frenchies’ stunt?
FF: It’s all very open, it’s very experimental. There is never a real plan, the spontaneity is part of what makes the Flying Frenchies. Artists and extreme sports athletes is a funny blend, it’s not often part of the same world. It’s gone from four friends to a friendship group of 20. The team is open minded and so there are always different things to explore.
CT: What is planned for the rest of the year?
FF: The best way to describe it is ‘freestyle’. In the eight years that we’ve been together it has always worked like that. There is no great plan, just lots of projects. All the different members of the team always have different things going on. We have built quite a large network and so are constantly linked to different things. Who knows what’ll be next?
THE FREE MAN is available on DVD and digital download now.