The media exercise, reverse side of the champion’s medal. Not necessarily the exercise Nouria Newman feels most comfortable in, at least less than in her kayak. But she succeeds nonetheless, mainly because it is a matter of recalling the film that recounts her exploits, recently available on Red Bull TV. With an end in apotheosis, marked by this female world record set at a fall of 104 feet (more than 30 meters). Involved interview, in every sense of the word.
How would you describe this movie? What was the approach?
We’ve tried to change the format, because in sports there is often a bit of the “hero journey” side: we see you in your daily life, you grew up like this, your mother says something about you, that you are a nice child, and then you’re unusual, you’re going to do something crazy, you’re going to get into trouble, it’s hard. We wanted to get out of this too easy affair. We were trying to crack our brains.
The basic project was not to make such a long film, but rather on the 100 foot drop we see at the end, right?
Because my athletic project with Red Bull was to pass the 30-foot token bar. And to break the world record for the highest female fall. In 1998, an American paddler, Shannon Caroll, descended from 78 feet for the first time. At the time, it was the world record for the highest fall for men and women combined. And above all, it was a first descent, a fall that no one had done before and that has not been repeated in over 10 years.
Something crazy, what.
Fully. And even if it’s a trap that’s quite common these days, it’s still a good reference. Later, I believe it was in 2005, another girl broke that height record, which in itself was nothing crazy. So the world record associated with something very simple.
Almost banal in quotes?
Not trivial because it was still 25 meters, but a little too easy compared to the men’s world record and the short world record of 54 or 56 meters, so 188 feet. It bothered me that there was so much difference between the two. I wanted to reach at least 100 feet. As for the film, we went from a project that only documented the 100 foot drop to a long format. Because we didn’t really know how to do it.
By doing a little digging we said to ourselves “ok you jump a trap, it’s 30 meters long” but for mere mortals it’s not very interesting. So David (Arnaud, the director) dug deep to tell a good story and we managed to make a movie around a waterfall, but it’s not about kayaking.
There is a feminist affirmation that we find throughout the film. Especially this interesting passage about fear and the difference in demands on boys and girls from childhood. It’s a somewhat sociological topic that is surfaced in the film…
I started with a simple observation. In my club we were almost the only ones in France with an almost perfect mix at the time. The girls were the little ones who went there, and when we got to the races we were entitled to comments like “in your club the girls aren’t afraid”. It always surprised me a little. I was like “so what?”
And then ?
It is true that in clubs little girls are often withdrawn, they cling to the edge, they do not want to try new things. While boys are easier going to cardboard or trying things and suddenly they are progressing faster between 8 and 12 years old.
We at La Plagne didn’t have that, and the girls were the leaders of the youth group. The coach made no distinction between girls and boys. It was, “Come on, let’s go, everybody’s going. “At my previous club I had a coach who didn’t force me to go when I was scared. The boys had no right to be afraid, otherwise they were sissies, little boys…
Anxiety is partly socially constructed, especially for little girls. The difference between girls and boys isn’t biological, it’s just that if you step on a barrier and you’re a girl, you’re told, “Watch out, you’re going to fall.”
How do you deal with this fear and how much discipline is it?
Sometimes we have preconceived ideas about fear, as if fear is bad. We often see it as something negative and that will keep us from performing when I think we need to use this fear. I wouldn’t do what I do if there isn’t a part of me that likes to be scared.
No, it’s ultra-reductive. Adrenaline, it’s time. You have stress, you go, and you have adrenaline. In my case, the adrenaline is after the rapids, if it’s there, it’s already over.
There is a general idea in the documentary to show through this fear that in extreme sports you are not necessarily hotheads and that you are not running in unconsciousness on the pile…
We’re not the adrenaline junkies or crazy people we often describe. Again, these are socially constructed ideas or even from a marketing point of view. Because extreme kayaking sells better than river kayaking. It is true that it is extreme, but they have become catchy words. Everything becomes extreme, everything becomes expedition and adventure, it means nothing anymore. My wish was to deconstruct this idea of the dumb extreme athlete who soars over jumps or heights. Rather, it is ultra-calculated. If I do this without thinking, there’s a good chance I’ll end up in a wheelchair.
I’ve seen people on the street see a Red Bull cap and quickly ask me what sport I play. When I say “extreme kayaking” they look at you, stick out their tongues and do rock and roll signs and say “yes”. And then you say to yourself “wow, what are they taking me for…”
There is also a lot of intimacy in the film, your confrontation with death, mourning, pain… It is very personal.
It’s the hardest thing to deal with. It is neither the director, nor the director, nor the broadcaster who will bear the consequences. If there are negative or even positive but very intrusive comments, it’s on me. Now I can have Jean-Michel, whom I have never met in my life, who will tell me about the death of one of my best friends.
People don’t always have the ability to stay put and keep their distance. They follow you on the networks and therefore have the impression that you are their friend, that they can talk to you about what they want and that you are okay with that. People don’t make such a big difference. It’s part of my job, but it’s not my favorite part.
Do you plan to see what is being said about the film, about you?
It’s easy to say “no, but I don’t care, I don’t look at the comments”, but in fact you will come across it at some point and it will be hurtful. Just watch and prepare for it. Sometimes there are things that can be relevant in the review. And then you always have the comment “don’t do it, that’s too dangerous”. And there you suddenly want to answer: “in fact you just didn’t understand the movie” (laughs)†