“ZABARDAST” an Expedition into the Karakoram Range with Jérôme Tanon – Full Video
Picture Organic Clothing in association with Almo Film presents: ZABARDAST, a high altitude travel diary directed by Jérôme Tanon, and starring Thomas Delfino, Léo Taillefer, Zak Mills, Yannick Graziani, and Hélias Millerioux.
They say old habits die hard. Snowboarding has a tendency to repeat itself when it comes to its film formatting. Of course, there is the traditional part-based movie. Location is another go-to method of segmenting a film. But it’s rare to watch something that entirely defies the quota. Zabardast does, and, actually, that shouldn’t come as a surprise when you realize who directed it. Jérôme Tanon has never been content with the expected. A snowboard photographer by trade, Jérôme has continued to shoot film in a digital era, producing some of the most avant garde depictions of modern snowboarding. He’s also the guy who made The Eternal Beauty of Snowboarding, a satirical perspective into the snowboard industry, garnering unanimous acclaim from the very demographic it poked fun at. But last year, Jérôme took on an endeavor well outside of anything he’s done before. His latest project, which is his first stab at directing, is a complex and stiff cocktail. Call it three parts adventure film, two parts drama, and one part snowboard movie. Garnish with comedy. Jérôme told us to take a seat before we watched the film. Below are the questions we had after it was over.
So this is the second film you've made?
Well after The Eternal Beauty of Snowboarding, yeah. But there was no production value to that. It was just me, the camera, and the computer.
So this was a massive leap.
Yeah, it's no comparison. Here there were two cameramen to direct, a music composer, a sponsor; it's a whole thing. So it's my first job directing a movie. Straight to serious business.
Can you talk about your process in directing this film? It's not at all a traditional snowboard movie.
I wanted to tell a true story in the fashion that a fictional one would be told. I didn't have a scenario in advance because I didn't know what was going to happen, but I knew I wanted to tell the story with a diary. So I told everyone to have diaries to write in. Not to brag about how much we hiked in a day or something—I don't give a shit about that—but about feelings, to make it personal. So I used all the drama and elements as storytelling, like it would be used in a fictional sense: the hero turns around at the last moment, then he finds redemptions in the end, the older guides teaching the younger guys, Zak's fighting with himself, and everything comes together in the end. There are all these elements of storytelling, but everything is true, so it's not a documentary, and it's not a piece of fiction. I don't know how to genre it.
Right. And there are very intentional themes that repeat in the way it's edited.
The editing and the music are designed to create tension. The music cuts when the guys drop, because I feel that's the most tense moment—when you don't have music that's when the tension is the highest because there's no escape, you hear the ice axe and Leo talking to himself. What I care about most is emotional entanglement. There's also the role of the humor and the jokes, and showing the true side of everybody—making fun of all of us because then you feel like these guys are your friends. You have friends like them. So later in the film, when something happens to one of these characters, you're emotionally much more engaged.
These are all tricks of movie-making that I tried. I tried many things, and I went back to scratch, I tried non-chronological then went back to chronological. It's a giant puzzle; you can't just take off one thing, otherwise everything crumbles. You work, you strip, you trim, you play; it's a crazy game that's endless and takes so much time and so much effort.
When were you finally able to call it done?
I had a deadline because of the festivals in Europe. I wanted to finish the editing in two months, but it took three months from six in the morning to eleven at night. At the end of the editing I was so exhausted. I couldn't control my emotions; I couldn't sleep. I was taking sleeping pills, and it was not effective, and I was taking pills during the day to wake up. By the end, I was losing it. I was glad to have finished it, but there are many things that could be better in the film. The first screenings were awful for me because all I could see was potential for better things. It took many screenings and watching people react positively to the film to accept it.
I imagine that’s a common feeling for any director. And in terms of the still imagery, you shot all film up there, right?
Yeah, all photos on film. I’ve taken snowboard photos on film since around 2009, because I love the grain, texture, and darkroom techniques, it’s so much more timeless, I feel. It was an advantage there because I didn’t have to transfer memory card data or reload batteries, but it also has many downsides, which I am used to. I only brought the Pentax 6×7 with four lenses, which weighs about the same as a dead donkey. But I felt like medium format was absolutely necessary to capture the beauty of these gigantic landscapes.
What about the physical aspect of this—is that the most intense physical exertion you've ever experienced?
Yeah, I was pushed to my limits. When I'm on a mission, I don't care about my comfort. I'm always the guy that's trying to make sure everyone is having a good time. But I was sick from altitude; I couldn't pull my sled for two or three days, and I had to give my sled to someone else to pull. I felt really bad about it. But when I got acclimated I was good.
And the setting is incredibly remote.
Yeah, it's the most remote area I've ever been to. It's not like you can call a helicopter if something happens. For a rescue you need clear weather, at least two days to organize with the army because only they have helicopters, and they have to agree to come and get you. But really, I’m not even sure how it would have worked. Better not to think about it.
How do you contact them?
Satellite phone. That's the only way.
But really if something serious happens, it's on you.
Yeah, you have to handle it yourself; there's no way around it. You can't fuck up.
How far from other people are you at the furthest point in the film?
At some point we were five to seven days walking from the nearest village, then one day's Jeep ride to the nearest town, where there would be a hospital.
And how much time did you spend out there?
Three weeks. And we had no time to chill, so that's why we were walking inside storms at times, because we had to get to certain places by certain times. We had a meeting with the porters to get us out, and we made it on time, thanks to the wind, using our tents as sails. We covered so much ground thanks to that. And we walked at night when the snow was harder. At times, it was hard not to lose it, but I couldn't because I was directing.
It's crazy to realize you had to charge everything on solar power and how portable all the equipment had to be for a trip like that.
Yes, we had to use only very light equipment, which is fine because in the end only the story matters. But Pierre and Julien managed to bring back incredibly beautiful footage. I told the cameramen, if something happens, don't wait to pull out a tripod or something. I don't give a shit if it's shaky. I want the shot, and it's better to have a blurry shot and know you have the action in there than to have nothing. It's an adventure film; it's not going to be perfect. It doesn't matter; what matters is the story. That's the basis for every movie out there. Movies can be beautifully shot and be boring. We see beautiful shots now every day. The reason The Eternal Beauty of Snowboarding had such success is not because of the camera quality; it's complete shit. It's not even color corrected. It's raw because I didn't give a shit about color correction. There's no music because I didn't need to use music. Since the dawn of man, the basis of human interaction has been around storytelling. Sitting around a fire telling a story. Humans love listening to stories.
So now that you've done it, do you like directing?
I do like it. I like the power of cinema. It takes a lot of guts, a lot of time, and a lot of work. A lot of dedication. It's never perfect.
The intimate travel diary of an incredible freeride expedition into the heart of the Karakoram range. The search for one of the most beautiful mountains to ski on the planet, standing at 5880m. An adventure so remote, so high, so committed that no mistakes were allowed. During five weeks, the crew pushed deeper and deeper inside Pakistan, with a 150 km loop in complete autonomy, pulling sleds filled with food, tents and solar panels across gigantic glaciers. As far from home as one can get. A meeting point of freeriding and mountaineering. A true adventure.
Directed and Edited by Jérôme Tanon, author of The Eternal Beauty Of Snowboarding.
Director of photography : Pierre Frechou.
Cinematography : Pierre Frechou & Julien Nadiras.
Produced by : Picture Organic Clothing & Almo Film.
Executive producers : Pierre Dubuy, Morgan le Faucheur, Mathias Joubert, Tom Picamoles, Julien Durant, Jérémy Rochette, Vincent André.
Post production : Léonard Mercier.
Original soundtrack : Jonathan Saguez.
Soundtrack : Audio Networks.
Music supervisor : Jérôme Tanon.
Line producer : Gaelle Martina.
Soundmix : Xavier Fulbert / Ideocast.