Highlining.jpg I Believe I Can Fly

Professional mountaineer and I Believe I Can Fly director Sébastien Montaz-Rosset talks about taking his camera to new heights to filming the art of walking a highline 1,000 metres above the ground...

On August 7, 1974, New York City held its breath as Philippe Petit danced across the sky on a 61 metre-long steel tightrope suspended between the World Trade Centre towers. Fast forward to 2011 and Sébastien Montaz-Rosset and his crew have dropped the balancing bar, loosened the tension of the rope for more bounce and are pushing the hire-wire walking to its limits.

Montaz-Rosset has termed this new sport highlining – a combination of rock climbing, slacklining and tightrope walking. While Petit used a steel cable, these days the structure and fabric of the line is made of flat nylon webbing to keep it from rolling under the athlete's foot. Unlike a tightrope in high tension, the highline is slack with only a measure of tension.

This makes the line easily susceptible to wind and any small shift in weight, bouncing the line like a trampoline and making the walk that much more of a dynamic challenge. Falls in this sport happen often and those involved prefer to use a fall leash which links the climber back to the main line - though some daredevils defy this safety measure by stepping out with only a small parachute pack as protection.

Sébastien Montaz-Rosset has captured the evolution of this most extreme of sports in his new film I Believe I Can Fly (available on November 14), an astonishing documentary which explores the physical endurance, mental concentration and emotional stability needed to succeed.

 

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Sébastien, what is your background and how did that lead you to highlining?
I have always been a sport enthusiast from an early age, as I grew up in a ski resort called Les Arcs in France. I always had a deep passion for outdoor sports. I tried highlining for the first time three years ago and realized it was the most intense feeling of all the things I had ever tried before. The adrenaline rush you get when you succeed in traversing a line 1,000 metres above the ground is just indescribable.

'It is an incredible sensation of freedom but also very destabilizing!'

What initially attracted you to this sport?
As a slackliner: the fact that there is nothing around you. Your link to solid ground is a 26-millimetre sling under your feet. It is an incredible sensation of freedom but also very destabilizing! I like everything there is about it, it's an original unknown activity in a mountain environment.

Since a highline cannot be set on your own, how is it anchored on either side?
This sport is a paradox. Without your friends, you cannot accomplish anything but once you are on the highline, the concentration is so intense that you cannot hear anything, cannot see anybody cheering you, you are so deeply absorbed. You separate in two teams, one stays on the main peak, the other abseils down and climbs up again with the highline attached to the back of a harness. Then we pull from both side with pulleys and blockers.

What are some hidden dangers that become evident with experience?
Self-confidence. Like any other mountain sports, if you feel too confident because of having done these thing so many times, sometimes you don’t concentrate and make mistakes in rope work or jibbing the line. Other dangers are the natural dangers of mountaineering: crevasses, rock falls, altitude sickness and storms. That's the game and we accept and like it!

Out of all your adventures with this sport, which one has been your highlight so far?
The highlight was definitely our trip to the fjords of Norway with Julien (Millot) and Tancrède (Melet) who are both base liners [a combination of highlining, free, solo and base jumping]. They have pushed the boundaries of their sports and they are pioneers in what they love the most: highlining and flying. This combination is something new, it is visually very strong. The documentary is not about action sports, so much as about fear, doubts, laughs, failures and how you can find the strength to live your dreams.

Sébastien Montaz-Rosset was talking to mb! Magazine.

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