Travel Diary-La Nuit de la Glisse film shoot
From Thierry Donard’s point of view, director of the Nuit de la Glisse films.
Jesse Richman – Double world kitesurfing champion, holder of numerous records in the discipline, Jesse has asserted himself as one of the regular faces on the circuit. Between sea and sky, he has dedicated his life to his passion, combining competitions with film shoots.
Loic Collomb-Patton – The newly-crowned world freeride skiing champion, this French rider from La Clusaz is back in front of the Nuit de la Glisse cameras for his comeback after an injury that cut his season short last year.
Wille Lindberg – Known in the freeride world for his aggressive style, Wille is featuring in Nuit de la Glisse for the 2nd time.
Matt Annetts – A Nuit de la Glisse ambassador for many years, this snowboarder has not lost any of his feel for the snow and is back with even more drive!
Karsten Gefle – After a short career in alpine skiing, Karsten has spent his last 14 years in the resort of Chamonix and is back for his 7th consecutive year with Nuit de la Glisse.
Matahi Drollet – A young prodigy, Matahi has followed in the footsteps of his elders, surfing the wave at Teahupoo at the age of just 14. After 4 years of filming with Nuit de la Glisse, he continues his rise, taming the world’s biggest waves.
Tikanui Smith – This iconic Tahitian Nuit de la Glisse surfer is recognised within the scene for his commitment and his ability to surf oversized waves.
Mathias Wyss – Mathias is one of the precursors of wingsuit flying. Searching for both freedom and big thrills, he is approaching man’s dream of flying. A plunge from the peaks is all he needs to take to the wing.
When I first had the idea for this sequence I had no idea it would take over 5 years to set up. First of all, I had to find the ideal location for this gathering and Norway sprung to mind last year as the most suitable place. I was also encouraged by the support of Karsten who organised everything on the ground.
I needed a place where the oceans and the mountains meet, a really special place so the fjords of Norway seemed perfect. But I hadn't counted on the difficulties that we would be faced with…The power of the elements in this country is unparalleled; the wind, the waves, snowstorms and chaotic weather bringing all sorts of conditions in one day, providing as much uncertainty as it did unique light. When I wrote the storyboard for this shoot, I couldn’t imagine how to make it work under such extreme conditions.
Our journey starts on an old rig, sails to the wind as we navigate the Saga Fjord in the Sunmore Alps.
The captain’s radio crackles and we receive Wille:
I’m coming into the fjord and am sailing at just 1 knot, I think it will be hard to meet you as arranged…
After a few minutes, a gust of wind picks up with incredible strength and the water we are sailing on ceases to be that of a fjord and becomes more like a wild sea with waves crashing in all different direction.
Wille sends out a second, more concerning call and he starts to have doubts. In his first experience as a sailor, he spent a few days at sea in extremely tough conditions; an experience I think he’ll remember for his whole life and one that he filmed so I could really understand the dangers he faced in Norway that time. His was a journey that was sure to end up as a segment in my film.
A few minutes go by before Wille contacts us again:
I’m now sailing at 10 knots, suddenly it’s all changed again, I should be with you pretty soon now.
Aboard our rig the sailing has become really fun and everyone is enjoying the experience! Jesse decides to inflate his wing and jumps into the water. At that moment we turn our eyes towards Wille’s sailboat which appears in the distance but our contentment is short-lived as Jesse’s kite gets caught on the little Zodiac attached to the back of our rig. Jesse’s wing suffered a tear that we’d only see later on…It’s at this moment that the main sail of our boat literally explodes, breaking the boom with a terrific crash and I remember seeing Loïc, who can’t swim, turn completely white as a sheet. We had to act fast and the captain gave Loïc the strict orders to run to the end of the boat to pull on a rope while the others lifted up the sail.
Meanwhile we have a man in the water drifting behind a torn kite and are powerless to help him. I had a similar experience in Lake Titicaca and bad memories were coming back to haunt me…That’s when Wille takes charge of the situation and heads toward Jesse to try and save him from the 4°C water with waves jostling about in all directions, stopping him from floating properly. That’s when our back up boat finally fishes Jesse out and gets him back on board. Not even taking the time to warm back up, he proceeds to inflate another wing and jump back into the water…
After a few minutes of sailing, Jesse comes close to our sailboat, popping a jump before disappearing into the distance as if he’s been sucked up by a tornado, staying suspended in the air for over 21 seconds, and after a few loopings, he calmly lands as if nothing happened. At the end of that day, the team of riders was finally fully complete.
The following days were dedicated to surfing in the waters of the Norwegian Sea and more Kitesurfing sessions before finally seeing the snow arrive in abundance.
And so begins an incredible day that starts at 5am, shooting Karsten skiing on the top section of a really steep face.
At 9am we were joined by the other members of the group in the Saga Fjord and that’s when I proposed they all ride together with Jesse and his kite. This idea was fortunately met with great enthusiasm.
By filming this sequence from the helicopter, I witnessed a spectacle that I’ll never forget. Jesse set up below the group of skiers and took off on his kite as Matahi, Mathias, Loïc, Karsten, Wille and Matt set off from the summit to follow him as planned.
On paper everything was going to plan, and for Jesse too, except that his wing had taken him to crazy heights, so high that it took him 4 minutes to get back down to the ground. We did our best to follow him from the helicopter and keep him in the viewfinder of the camera but I had no doubt in Jesse’s ability to handle the situation. At a certain moment, Jesse was suspended under his wing 250m above the ground when his kite got the upper hand and he had to battle with it to regain control before he came in to touch down just as planned amongst the team of skiers who were tearing up the slope!
Despite these intense scenes, the day was not over and we proceeded to build a kicker- a ramp carved out of the mountain. Loïc was nervous because he planned to throw down some big tricks and was concerned about the back he’d injured last year. In just 4 jumps he managed to stick all the tricks he had in mind, all sending him over 10 metres above the snow dropping towards the fjords of Norway, an idyllic setting...
What follows is trickier to narrate because of course Matt, Karsten and Wille were also enrolled to jump but freestyle is not their preferred discipline so the results were pretty hilarious. Matt took so much speed for a backflip that he over-rotated and almost ended up doing 2…and a half, Karsten tried to reach the moon and, as for Wille, he came out with top marks with a styled out backflip.
Ultimately I think I was right to gather these individuals from different backgrounds together, bringing their different sports into such an amazing place where long-lasting friendships and bonds were forged.
I’ve worked my whole life to try and capture these sports that, for me, share a common thread; true freeride without competition where a team is so much stronger than the sum of its parts. Together they managed to overcome the elements, draw motivation from each other’s exploits and to accomplish great things…This is what I took away from this adventure.
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