A few weeks, a few days, a few minutes, a few seconds… that will forever be etched in my memory. This is the story of a timeless expedition. An expedition, both in the literal sense – deep into the remote mountains of Kyrgyzstan – and in the figurative sense – a project that took me more than two years to complete. Flashback.
In 2021, Thomas Delfino, a professional snowboarder and athlete-ambassador for Picture Organic Clothing, contacted me to make a ski documentary in a remote, unexplored country. An expedition on the scale of Zabardast, with difficult access, never-before-skied steeps, and extremely unpredictable weather. In short, a huge project. In spite of the numerous geopolitical issues and a global pandemic, we set off in the spring of 2022 for Kyrgyzstan, following the ancient Silk Roads and in the footsteps of early 12th-century explorers. The goal was to reach the remote mountains of Kokshaal-Too, in the Tian Shan region, along the border between Kyrgyzstan and China. Deep within these mountains rises Kyzyl-Asker, a 5842-meter peak, a massive pyramid that Thomas dreamed of skiing.
Chronoception: Movie trailer
In the trailer for Chronoception, presented as a contemporary fable and composed by local musicians who wrote this story in three acts, we immerse ourselves into Kyrgyz culture, a nomadic, shamanic people with ancient rituals that offer a glimpse into their unique way of life. Like an ode to Adventure, one that early explorers told through watercolors in their travel journals, encountering the wider World and its many peoples.
An expedition to Kyrgyzstan
We put together a strong team, with Thomas Delfino as the expedition leader. Aurélien Lardy, a young extreme skier from Chamonix, and Léa Klaue, a talented snowboarder from the Swiss Alps, and the only woman with enough guts to hop into the Kamaz bus, both joined the team without giving it a second thought. As for the high mountain guides, we called upon the talents of Hélias Millerioux, a renowned Himalayan mountaineer and Piolet d’Or winner for establishing a new route up Nuptse, and Jean-Yves “Blutch” Fredriksen, a gifted explorer, big wall climber, and one of a small handful of people to have paraglided across the Himalaya on his own without any outside help, as well as the only person with a violin. The other members included photographer Jérémy Bernard, and cameraman Pierre Frechou, aka La Frech, who participated in the Zabardast expedition to Pakistan.
Expeditions rhyme with uncertainty; otherwise, they wouldn’t be expeditions. In our particular case, the decades-old six-wheel drive Kamaz bus got stuck in the mud over 40 km from base camp. So we had no other choice than to continue on foot, traveling through Kyrgyzstan’s vast, empty landscapes, crossing countless rivers, and surrounded by a horizon the seems to never end.
The tone was set.
We were going to walk. A lot.
The distance to base camp was long, and our backpacks heavy. The Kyrgyz steppes stretched out before us, seemingly endless. We were force to change our main objectives, understanding that we didn’t have the team or the time to climb and ski our original goal. Film production, battery recharges, and the weight of the packs were simply not compatible with an alpine-style expedition. Fortunately, Thomas had a few tricks up his sleeve, and we turned our attention towards several magnificent peaks looming high above the adjacent valleys. We set our sights on Pyramida, Pony, and Night Butterfly.
Chronoception, or the perception of time
Our perception of time changed as the events of the expedition unfolded. Time stretched during the journey, on the road, on foot, and while shuttling loads. Our subconscious seemed to absorb it, to almost forget about it. Time felt infinite, and appearing even to go backwards at camp, when it snowed, and with each painstaking step on seemingly never-ending ascents, over one mountain pass and on to another. And then, suddenly, everything sped when we reached the summit. Dizzy from the rush of adrenaline, the altitude, the stress. Time lengthened getting ready for the descent as we checked every last detail.
And then you drop in.
And time stands still.
Dropping in, making a few turns, choosing a line. This moment in time, so short in absolute terms, will remain etched in our memories forever. It is this paradox that we find so fascinating, so intriguing, between the drawn-out feel of an expedition, and the short intense instant of a descent.
Making an expedition documentary
Managing equipment is an important aspect of an expedition, along with group safety, weather, snow conditions, and managing everyone’s expectations. You have to back up footage on a regular basis. For advanced camps, we brought solar panels to recharge our camera and drone batteries. The drone was a major source of stress for the film team (crashes, signal loss, losing data, etc.). It also represented a source of stress for the skiers due to the distances involved: the drone can only fly for 5 minutes, so required careful planning and coordination for each descent. However, since we had already written the story in advance, we knew where to go in terms of artistic creation. After spending three weeks alone in the mountains, we returned to civilization, taking the time to experience the local way of life, customs, and traditions. We were fortunate to be able to film local dancers and musicians, the cornerstone of the artistic aspect of the project.
Time also seems to stand still when the musicians play, as if in a kind of shamanic trance.
When it comes to storytelling, I wanted to narrate the story using the allegory of Time. A sort of personified character, a metaphor that paints the film and narrates it as the story unfolds. We were able to shoot these scenes in a studio with a local artist, who played along and painted our story! It was a pleasure to be able to combine watercolors, film, dance, and music on a project of this scale.
Films festivals & screenings
The film CHRONOCEPTION is being showcased at numerous international festivals, between September 2023 and August 2024. Here is the complete list of screenings and festivals where the film is being shown (regularly updated). If you are a festival and wish to select the film, please visit the Film Freeway page.
CHRONOCEPTION is also part of the BANFF World Tour 2024, spanning dozens of countries and hundreds of dates! Check all the screenings on their site; there’s probably one near you. The official online release on YouTube is scheduled for February 8, 2024.
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