Making a film shouldn't be all fun & easy

Location Four beds in a line in Monastery of St Bernard | Mood Happy, happy, happy | Date 28 February 2006
Author (full name): 
Franny Armstrong
Four beds in a line in Monastery of St Bernard
Happy, happy, happy
Snoring of Fernand, Fernand's pal Fernand and Lizzie
Eyes watering from not wearing sunglasses while filming
28 February 2006
Current crisis: 
Cramp in calves

Got a bit of a running joke going with myself (sad, I know), to do something foolish every year on the 28 February. I set a very high standard last year, with an act of folly that couldn't possibly be printed. And this year seems to have come together at the last minute too.

Fernand (who is rapidly turning into the Director of this film) had suggested that we come and film while he guided 30 "old people" for a day's snowshoeing. Coming hot on the heels of our Vallée Blanche marathon, it sounded like a nice relaxation and a chance to get some shots of him in his day job.

Of course, we never thought that "old people" meant "middle-aged French people in a hiking club who meet once a week to climb mountains".

So it was a little embarrassing that we could barely keep up with them. But they all loved the idea of the film - of course they've seen loads of changes in the mountains themselves - after I did a mini-speech describing it in French. (Also caught on camera for more humiliation in the Making Of doc.)

They certainly know how to picnic. None of the plastic wrapped cheese and pickle sandwiches and a bag of crisps. Full French loaves, endless bottles of red wine (obviously not decanted into plastic bottles to save weight but decrease drinking pleasure), huge chunks of meat, whole round cheeses and four or five aperitifs. All of which are passed round and shared and commented on. My favourite was an unidentified liquor in an olde style silver swig-bottle which is poured onto a sugar cube. I said that if we had any alcohol we wouldn't be able to film, but they said it was "obligé", so we had to.

Five hours later, we made it up to St Bernard, which is a narrow pass between the mountains of France, Italy and Switzerland. 'Twas here that the St Bernard dogs were first trained to rescue people from avalanches, but now they use Golden Retrievers, as they're not so heavy in the helicopters, for shame. In the summer you can drive up, but the monastery’s guest rooms are only available for people who arrive on foot, bike, snowshoe or ski. Yahey.

There's a spectacular frozen lake in front of the monastery. Despite 100 or so hardy people staying every night during the winter, not one had ventured onto it, so the snow was a couple of feet deep. I asked Fernand whether it was possible to walk on it in snowshoes and off he set, running and whooping down the sides of the hill, towards the frozen water, like a 5 year-old child. 30 minutes later everyone else had caught on and were all charging around. But not before I got some cracking shots of our hero breaking the path through the new snow.

Clambering back up the sides, I thanked Fernand and said "C'est toujours une aventure avec toi", which I hoped meant "it's always an adventure with you". To which he replied, "C'est toujours une aventure avec TOI". Aww.

When we were filming an interview the other day, I asked him difficult questions about his first wife, who'd been killed by a truck. He got upset. I apologised. He said: "Don't worry, making a film shouldn't be all fun & easy. Life is difficult, but difficult is good."

I read an article with the guy who made a doc called "Darwin's Nightmare" and he said that when he chooses people to be in his films, the most important thing is that he likes and respects them, as he doesn't want to spend too much time with people he doesn't like. I've obviously been doing the same thing without knowing it, as I absolutely adore everyone in my films: Luharia, Helen, Dave, Fernand, Jeh, Piers & Lisa. I even like the so-called baddies like Mr Vyas, Minister for the Narmada Dam.