Early in 2008, a Frenchman living in Spokane pointed his skis down the southwestern flank of Mount Hood, accelerated, tucked and then launched off a 250-foot-tall cliff.
The affable and energetic Matthias Giraud fell for about 3 seconds, windmilling his arms to keep his body upright. Then he pulled a parachute and screamed with joy as the nylon material caught the wind.
Giraud floated to the ground, completing his first ski base jump and the first jump of its kind off Oregon’s Mount Hood.
The jump made waves. Giraud, 24 at the time, was interviewed by the likes of CNN and “Good Morning America,” alongside a passel of local TV stations and newspapers.
One of those interviews was with Chase Ogden, then 25. A Spokane native fresh from college at the University of Washington, Ogden was working at KXLY at the time and had started a show called “Outdoor Storytellers.” Giraud was a natural fit for the half-hour slot.
But as sometimes happens, when Ogden met Giraud (who was living in an apartment above the Onion) the two hit it off and Ogden realized there was something more to this story.
Giraud was charismatic, driven, thoughtful, and struggling with his sister’s recent suicide and a dysfunctional family life.
“I knew there was a bigger story and also that his career was just starting I got the sense that this could be something someday,” Ogden said.
So Ogden took a leap of his own and asked, “Can I make a documentary about you?”
Giraud said yes, although he admits now “we were both very naïve.” At first, the film was going to be about Giraud and his mentor – the father of ski base jumping Shane McConkey, but McConkey died in a 2009 ski base accident in Italy.
“The original storyline was gone,” Ogden said.
The project languished, although Ogden never fully forgot about it. He left KXLY and got a master’s degree at Chapman University, eventually landing a job teaching at Eastern Washington University.
Ogden grew up snowboarding and playing in punk bands and felt some affinity for the wild, counterculture world of extreme sports.
“The punk scene and jumpers and skateboarders, they all sort of overlap,” Ogden said.
In 2011, when Giraud called wanting to restart the project, Ogden jumped at the chance.
Giraud had continued to jump, making a name and a career for himself as “Super Frenchie.” The globe-hopping skier, with an infectious laugh and a puppy dog smile, skied off some of the most iconic and dangerous mountains in the world, including the Matterhorn and the Eiger. But he also had a child and was in a bad accident, one that nearly killed him.
For the next 10 years, Ogden met Giraud a handful of times a year. Giraud would send Ogden hours and hours of footage of him skiing, jumping and living.
That dedication has resulted in the film “Super Frenchie.” The 1-hour, 17-minute documentary is a deep dive into Giraud’s life and mindset. It documents his evolution as a skier and jumper, a near fatal accident and the birth of his son. The film challenges the stereotypes around extreme athletes – selfish adrenaline junkies – while honestly examining the inherent risk in these sports.
“I personally completely despise the definition of adrenaline junkie because it shows a complete lack of understanding from people,” Giraud said. “These people have never taken a real risk in their lives. And they’re living in a box. This movie is about having the courage to live and truly live with a capital L.”
Giraud is quick to point out that living that way doesn’t necessarily mean risking your life. Instead, it’s “about being true to yourself and having the courage to live by your own standards,” he said.
In that way, Giraud and Ogden’s stories are similar.
Over more than a decade, Ogden stuck to the story, despite setbacks and the ever-present possibility of failure. Unlike other ski or adventure movies, “Super Frenchie” is journalistic in style. Ogden followed Giraud, watching 350 hours of video multiple times. Nothing was scripted and the story evolved naturally. Several times, Ogden considered finishing it, but he never felt that it had a proper ending.
“I probably should have given up on it,” Ogden said. “But I never did. I always loved his story.”
The dedication paid off. When an natural resolution arrived, Ogden finished up the film.
Starting last year, the film played in festivals, including the Spokane International Film Festival. In late January, Greenwich Entertainment, a New York-based independent distribution company, purchased the North American rights to Ogden’s film. Greenwich is the same company that distributed the Oscar-winning “Free Solo.”
“Super Frenchie” will be released on March 26 in theaters, virtual cinema and on digital platforms.
“I couldn’t fathom jumping off a mountain. And through a documentary, I kind of explored that,” Ogden said.
“Over time, I realized he is a super smart guy and there is something at his core. My need to make films is safer but similar. I couldn’t stop doing it. Even if it was life-threatening, I would continue to do it.”
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