Alex Pella, a 42-year old Catalan sailor, has participated in two Imoca seasons (2009-2011), notably taking the start of the last Barcelona World Race. He was also enlisted for the role of consultant in the filming of the box office hit, En Solitaire, which made the big screen this winter. On his return from the last Transat Jacques Vabre aboard a Class40, we asked him about what he refers to as an unforgettable experience.
- What was the toughest thing about your role as consultant for François Cluzet?
AP: “It was a 6-month mission including the preparation of the boat, the gear and the team, and above all the filming. Clearly the toughest thing was going out on the water everyday for 2 months, 9 hours a day! There were 18 of us aboard an IMOCA60 that was intended to be sailed shorthanded, only 3 of whom were sailors: Yann Riou, who helped me with the sailing and electronics and Olivier Cusin, who was the boat captain. The tricky element was ensuring safety in the tough conditions. I set a limit of a 3-metre swell and 30 knots of breeze.
It was very complicated to satisfy the needs of the scenario, namely giving the impression of being offshore, whilst we were close to the coast (Groix or the Canaries), finding the right angles for the shoots and taking the sun, waves and wind into account so that everything tied together! Added to that, the filming doesn’t correspond with the chronological order of the film…
All that required a great deal of energy, preparation and work from me.
The budgetary pressure is very significant in cinema, as every day of filming costs very dear… and given that we have no control over the conditions at sea, it was tense at times. Ultimately I was very happy, because all our time on the water went by without mishap and I’d like to thank the team, who supported me at sea and the people involved in the project on shore too.”
- Are you happy with the rendering of the images aboard?
AP: “I’ve seen the film 3 times! In Paris, in Le Havre and with family in Spain at Christmas… You have to watch it as a fictional piece and not as a documentary on sailing or the Vendée Globe. It’s a good film because quite honestly there isn’t a great deal going on aboard an IMOCA60 during a circumnavigation of the globe! It’s also difficult to make a film for the general public on this basis and I personally believe it’s a success as an adventure film. I’m very happy with the images, which are very beautiful thanks to the kind of cinematic processing we’re not in the habit of seeing in our sport. Our images are often filmed with small GoPro-type cameras and sent via satellite for what is ultimately a pretty poor quality result.
In any case, the feedback from the IMOCA skippers has been very nice and everyone appreciated seeing the film, as it’s the first time that the class has had a presence in cinema rather than all the usual media. It was good to tell a story and that’s why I appreciate the feedback about the work achieved.”
- What were the biggest surprises you encountered during filming?
AP: “At the first meeting in Barcelona, where Denis Horeau put me in contact with the film crew, the fact that the Vendée Globe was a cinema topic was a great surprise in itself! After that, together with the production team from the Films du Cap with Jean Cottin, Christophe Offenstein the director, his chief cameraman and all the team, we did a first read through of the script. At that point I was bowled over when I discovered all their plans and the ambition required to pull them off (capsizing a boat, saving a skipper at sea via helicopter, filming during the start of the real race with the crowds, facing up to the weather conditions…)! The pros of the cinema are fantastic and so ambitious, in a good sense, that they go all out to achieve their goal.
It’s the first time in 15 years that I’ve been involved in a project other than offshore racing. On a personal level, it did me good to meet other people and discover other walks of life and new atmospheres…
To see the cameramen, the sound engineers and the comedians at work aboard an IMOCA60, when it requires a relaxed atmosphere to film comfortably, frankly it was no picnic for them! In fact, everyone was sick, aside from us 3 sailors and François Cluzet, who was right as rain.
The team really was very professional, demonstrating a great deal of mutual aid and support and this very powerful atmosphere enabled us to get the job done. On the 2nd day of filming, everyone was sick and 2 cameras were out of action… After a crisis meeting, we decided to carry on and I think all that makes the film very realistic and credible. It’s so difficult to drum up the necessary funds to finance such a project, that you have to take it through to its conclusion.
- Where are you at with your own plans? Is a return to IMOCA possible?
AP: “Yes, I dream of returning to IMOCA for the Barcelona World Race and then the Vendée Globe. In the meantime, I’m trying to get in as much sailing as I can and I had a good Transat Jacques Vabre in the Class 40. Right now, it’s complicated in the current economic context. 2014 boasts a fantastic schedule with the novel New York-Barcelona race, the Rhum and then the Barcelona World Race. Coming from Barcelona, it’s really a major objective for me, but I know it’ll be tough!”