The Intentions of the Film Director
Why do I want to make this film?
I have been accompanying adventurers into wide open spaces for many years. For example, I have co-organised and taken part in Arthur’s Alaskan adventure portrayed in the film entitled “Le Pouvoir des Rêves” [The Power of Dreams].
The adventures of the expedition related here is the most ambitious one I have ever set up: one month of total independence with 4 other less experienced adventurers, in the furthest outreaches of northern Canada, to descend the Nahanni, one of the wildest rivers on earth, and to climb a legendary wall of 800 m.
It was great from a sports, scenery and human point of view. However, this expedition has been particularly special to me. Descending the Nahanni was like going back to childhood. At the age of 15 indeed, I was absolutely spell-bound by the book ‘Nahanni’, the last book ever written by Roger Frison Roche and ‘Victoire sur la Nahanni’ [Victory over the Nahanni], an account of the very first descent. These books literally propelled me into Adventure with a capital letter. Time flies, and of course, there will be other expeditions, but I realised along the way that this is going to be my very last great climb, my very last ‘big wall’. I have been lucky enough to share this important transition for me with climbing companions, who have been able to understand this emotive handing over of the baton.
This is also my very first film as a director. This signals a whole new chapter in the pursuit of my passion for transferring knowledge.
Why do I so often go on expeditions with youngsters?
Firstly, what I like is the silence and the rhythm that these large open spaces impose upon you. I also like climbing, packrafting, Nordic cross-country and Alpine downhill skiing, walking, etc. Every year, it becomes harder and harder for me to find people of my age to come along with me. I have therefore solved this problem by setting out with youngsters, who actually present me with a real challenge. Over the years, I have become a privileged witness of the succession of generations and the evolution of their mentalities and motivations.
What is my added value in these expeditions, and what do they have to offer me?
We are living in an increasingly virtual world, in which everything has to happen faster and faster. I am convinced that adventure sports can act as an antidote. By inventing an adventure for ourselves, we can take control of the reins of our lives again, providing we keep to certain rules.
My greatest joy is to help very young people to get over the stage of doing crazy stuff with their friends, or the sporting challenges that they set themselves, and for them to open up to the silence and the rhythm of walking, to the paddling or the glide of the skis in these wide open spaces. That is where they discover their own inner music, and who they really are. That is where they take their masks off, and this triggers a different and more exciting way of relating to others.
At the same time, what I like most of all is to transfer knowledge, and to make these young adventurers, female and male, independent in risk management, which is necessary on these types of adventures. Rather than buying an ‘all inclusive’ prefabricated adventure, including the photos to be published on Facebook, I push them to come up with their own adventure and I try to help them to implement it themselves.
What has been the biggest challenge of this Canadian expedition for me?
It is the biggest expedition I have ever organised. That in itself is already exciting. For this whole month of complete independence, we had to be impeccably organised at every possible level: equipment, food, logistics, but also preparing the participants from a technical point of view.
However, above all, I had to succeed in integrating myself into a group of 4 adventurers, all much younger than me, who were facing a lot of new things. I did not want to be their guide, but I wanted to experience something great together with them whilst, at the same time, sharing my experience and what makes sense to me.
For my companions, packrafting down the Nahanni was mainly a cheap way to gain access to the Lotus Flower. For me it was much more than that. From the outset, I felt that my biggest challenge would be to help them go beyond their legitimate quest of reaching the summit, and enter the Nahanni and its rapids, its long stretches of calm water and this inner music, which it can help us to discover. For me, the success of the expedition lay in this challenge. On the one hand, over this month of independence in these great wide open spaces, there were only two or three days of climbing, and a whole month is a long time. On the other hand, both of the objectives had to be met and had to be mutually enriching, otherwise we would be spending a pretty lonesome time together.
This film shows how, together, we managed to get over these challenges and how we each grew up in the process.
What has been the most difficult for me?
Yes, of course, from a physical point of view, I reached my limits, because it was immensely challenging in terms of sport. However, it was especially the mental aspect that was the hardest for me.
I usually take on this role during the first two days, and then I allow the rituals to set in, and even to change. I am not the guide, and I do not want to take everything onto my shoulders. That is contrary to my philosophy of adventure. I only try to be a catalyst to facilitate people to gain independence in managing the risks that are inherent in any adventure, and ultimately … in life.
The problem is that there is often a backlash, and that was also the case here. When there is a reaction, the catalyst sees himself a little ejected from the reaction. On the one hand, when a person takes on board the rituals, they have a tendency to want to diminish the person who has introduced them. On the other hand, the catalyst, who is no longer vital to start the reaction, starts to feel a little superfluous and feels ill at ease. He has to create another role for himself within the group. This is healthy in a way, but technically and psychologically speaking, the first two days of the river trip had in this case also been the most difficult to cope with. I was exhausted and I found it a little hard to go through this period, despite this being a fairly typical situation. However, everyone was tired and reacted as best as they could. All that was quite understandable. We talked about it and those were great moments. However, under the spell of the summit, the other team members did not immediately grasp what I was talking about, even if we did cope with it quite well. It took me some time to come back into the group but we managed it nevertheless. Everyone thought it was a magnificent expedition, and it brought us all closer.
How does the age difference make things more complicated?
It was somewhat of a strange situation because I am older than their dads. This was awkward at first, but things never take long to settle down. Very quickly everyone starts to relax and to tell dubious jokes regardless of who is in earshot. Therein lies the magic of the expedition.
The problem in this case was that I was the only ‘old one’, and that over a distance of 550 km of river, there were lots of calm stretches when talking was the main pastime. And in that case, youngsters just talk and talk…. I tried to listen and to join into their conversation, but I had to admit that I very quickly failed to understand what they were even talking about. They were talking about video clips on YouTube, cult series and films, such as Star Wars or the Lord of the Rings, in such detail, the complexity of which I could not even start to imagine.
I did try to bring up a few topics, but they looked at me with an air that showed me that they were just as baffled as I was about their topics. Briefly, more so than the physical aspect, age also brings with it cultural differences that create the generational gap. However, the riches of this type of expeditions is that it bridges those gaps. From that point of view, this expedition has been a success, and that is also what I would like to tell you in this film.
The Intentions of the Film Producer
After seeing Dominique Snyers’ first cut, which he produced single-handedly, my experience as a film producer is telling me that it was possible to produce a really beautiful multi-layered adventure film suitable for the general public.
Firstly, this adventure is about setting yourself new challenges, and the mutual support that is needed to help the other person realise their dream. And then, there is the journey itself. The actual climbing experience is preceded by the longing and anticipation, the preparation, the effort of hiking to come face to face with the actual challenge, the challenge itself, and then coming back down to earth again after the challenge, the return journey, before being able to share the whole experience with other people, the ones who did not go travelling. There is the human adventure that needs to be successfully completed in one month; to support a group of people, who hardly knew each other at the start or who did not know each other at all, to manage to complete a challenge in a spirit of mutual support and of fun, and experiencing all of this together.
And then there is also Dom’s adventure; he, who has experienced Adventure with a capital letter, and who has set out to discover unknown locations and has shared these experiences with so many people. There is his story; he, who at the age of 57, sometimes finds himself quite lonely with youngsters of less than 26 years old, with whom it is becoming harder and harder to share the same project, the same universe even. Age also becomes a personal challenge, which you have to face with your eyes wide open, even if our dreams push us onwards and upwards.
It is the interweaving of these multiple looks, aspirations and questions that “The Nahanni Whisperer” tells the story: a great and fun adventure that touches the wide audience of those who continue to dream of adventures and achievements.
The film will entail a 3-pronged approach: distribution at international festivals for which we already have the contacts, which we made previously with the film ‘Le pouvoir des rêves’ [The Power of Dreams] (more than 26 festivals); televising the film by screening it on RTBF (Belgian TV) and on adventure channels; screening the film in Belgium in collaboration with the ‘Club Alpin de Belgique’ [Belgian Mountaineering Club] in order to make youngsters aware of climbing, and of the need for support when practising this sport.
Philippe Sellier, Triangle7