Start with a ruggedly beautiful gorge in southern France. Add in aerialists and BASE jumpers. Then, for extra insanity, have a few musicians follow them over the cliff — while playing their instruments.
That’s the basic recipe of Metronomic, a captivating 15-minute film that makes its U.S. debut at the New York WILD Film Festival (February 23–26). Co-sponsored by the Explorers Club, the festival will present a range of adventure and eco-minded films, including Before the Flood, in which Leonardo DiCaprio heads deep into countries affected by climate change, and 4 Mums in a Boat, a doc about a group of female Brits who aim to break the world’s record for oldest rowers across the Atlantic.
The Flying Frenchies, the band of French jumpers and athletes who instigated Metronomic, have regularly pushed the BASE envelope; in one earlier film, a drummer performed while hanging on to a paraglider. But Metronomic marked a first, according to director Vladimir Cellier. “You can see musicians flying in their other movies, but we wanted to make this one different,” he says from his home in the French Alps. “The idea was to have the musicians play, pull the trigger, and see what happens.”
In 2013, Cellier, the Frenchies, and the musicians — two of them from the area band Radio Monkey — met up at Verdon Gorge, a river canyon in the southeast of France with one 350-meter-high cliff. According to Cellier, most of the musicians had never jumped before that moment. “No training,” he says. “They arrived and trained on the site. They put their trust in the team.”
During four days of filming, they persuaded the musicians to leap off a cliff, made sure ropes were secured — in one case, to a drum kit — and worked over and over on the timing. When drummer Freddy Montigny had trouble adhering to 100 BPM while dangling in midair, he put a metronome in his ear to ensure he kept the same time on every attempt. (In case you’re wondering, the song was re-recorded and enhanced in a studio after the jump, since the musicians couldn’t always hear themselves despite guitarist Gabriel Druot sporting a homemade amp on his back. “It was always, like, chaos,” Cellier admits.)
A different sort of timing was also crucial. Using ropes of varying lengths, Cellier and his crew had to ensure the musicians didn’t crash into each other during the jumps. “There was a very small window to jump,” says Cellier. “The first musician had to make the swing and then come back. When he was on top of coming back, then the next musician had to jump. If he didn’t jump then he could have hit the other one coming back. There was always a small risk, but they accepted it.” For added safety, singer Dalenda Melodie Sina jumped separately to avoid collisions.
Thanks to those precautions, there were no accidents during the musicians’ two collective leaps, both of which are included in the film. “At the end, the organizers said, ‘Whew — no deaths,’ ” says Cellier. “And I was like, ‘Wow, I thought I was the only one who was thinking about that.’ Some people can do that and some would never do that. I wouldn’t have done it even if they paid me.”
In an unfortunate postscript, French BASE jumper Tancrède Melet, who is seen in the movie, died early last year when he was accidentally pulled into the air by a hot air balloon, resulting in a fatal 100-foot fall. But the Frenchies have carried on, making additional films in which they rode a surfboard on a zipline in the French mountains.
For Cellier, the experience making Metronomic (which is available for purchase for 8 euros from barakaflims.com) not only made him rethink shooting techniques but also the idea of peril itself. “This is not my world, so it makes me ask a lot of questions about life,” he says. “What can explain when people forget every danger and risk their life to make their goal?” With a laugh, he adds, “They’re either stupid or genius.”