The Free Man: NZIFF Review
Starting with a Sartre quote that "Man is condemned to be free", director Toa Fraser's latest doco is perhaps incorrectly being sold as a look at Jossi Wells, the NZ free-skier and his interest in the sport.
But what it actually is, is more of a meditation on what inspires people to be involved in extreme sports, and is more of a look at the Flying Frenchies, a pair of French guys who started a company of base-jumping and high-lining. Added into the mix is the inclusion of Jossi Wells, who starts training with the Frenchies to be able to cross a zipline in the French Alps.
Fraser creates a typical documentary set up in the start, detailing a bit more about Jossi and how he got into sport before switching the film's focus away from this and more into the psychology of extreme sports and whether it's man's desire to push the edges and visit the void.
That's potentially some of the problem with The Free Man, in that it doesn't quite seem to know what exactly it wants to be as it unspools. Loaded with slightly po-faced questioning and voiceover that equates the director to those walking a high-wire, The Free Man's philosophical edges may be enough to put some people off.
However, what helps it, is the incredible footage of extreme sports and also the camaraderies that emerge from between the Frenchies and Wells.
Using a locked off camera and some truly vertigo-inducing shots, Fraser manages to spin out some magnificently existential moments as you end up questioning why people are doing this. It doesn't quite get into the psyche as well as perhaps it intends to do, but The Free Man reminds once again of the adrenaline thrill that people get from being involved in such pursuits.
Perhaps if The Free Man had had a slightly tighter focus on perhaps just one angle and one group, it may have been a more precisely delivered documentary; as it is currently, its thoughtful edges and desire to create metaphors mean it feels a little tonally jerky, almost as if it's caught on its own high wire of being.