The Free Man Dir: Toa Fraser


Feeling a bit over day-to-day monotony? If you can handle the dizzying spectacle, Jossi Wells and his newfound French friends might set you free.

This documentary is built around Kiwi Olympic freestyler skier Jossi Wells and his meeting with The Flying Frenchies, a group known for base jumping dressed as clowns, wingsuit flying and ‘slacklining’ (a version of tightrope walking) at nosebleed inducing heights.

I love sport documentaries, especially the ones that transcend their discipline into a philosophy on life. While The Free Man does cover extreme sport it veers closer in spirit to similarly tightrope tale Man on Wire and even Touching the Void.

The Free Man must be savoured on the big screen. From the opening shots of high-lining on mountain tops, to go-pro cartwheels off cliffs and crisp slow-motion slope action the film constantly amazes.

Kiwi director Toa Fraser – who also has thriller 6 Days at the NZIFF – and regular producer Mathew Metcalfe approached Wells with a cryptic concept. Wells said sweet as and jetted off to France, only to find on landing he was slacklining with the Frenchies the very next day, and then highlining up a mountain the day after. No pressure.

Wells’ taste of the highlife, his upbringing and freestyling success makes up for half the movie and is fascinating and surprising stuff, but the second half that focuses on the Flying Frenchies is dizzying documentary gold.

You might not want to follow in their footsteps – off a mountain – but the Frenchies charismatic zest for life might just twist your arm. The clear camaraderie from the madcap Frenchies sees Wells literally jumping back in.

It wasn’t just the insane stunts – like base jumping off a moving bus off a bridge – that made the audience audibly gasp, Jossi Wells post-surgery scars also caused a few hearts to flutter.

From their own heart-breaking losses the extreme enthusiasts know the risks involved can be deadly. Wells, a devout Christian, said in the post Q&A he had made his peace with God.

The discussion on the existential aspects of their pursuits is absorbing stuff, but Fraser, who wrote the story treatment and narrates the film, distracts with overdone pondering on ‘the void’ at the conclusion.

It’s better coming from the free men themselves. Wells never wants to look back and think he didn’t give it 100%.

“It’s the only way to live.” Inspiring words from a powerful film.

Clayton Barnett (

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