What is it that fuels adrenaline junkies to risk their lives? Toa Fraser’s documentary The Free Man sets out to investigate extreme sports and the psychology behind it. The film focuses on New Zealand Olympic freestyle skier Jossi Wells who sets himself the immense task of taking up extreme sports in which he has absolutely no experience. Jossi began learning to ski from just 18 months and now at 26 his body has been severely battered by his skiing and thrill-seeking pursuits. But he faces his toughest test to date when he partners up with extreme sports performance artists The Flying Frenchies. The French daredevil group undertake extreme stunts thousands of metres above the ground and often without any safety harness. The Free Man is a breath-taking look at extreme sports and these fearless people who participate in them.

Jossi’s determination and openness make him an intriguing subject and his journey from slacklining between trees to highlining on a snowy mountain top in Chamonix after just a few days of training is never less than compelling. The Flying Frenchies are an eccentric troupe with some entertaining stories to tell but it’s the impressive cinematography which really stands out. The shots filmed at great heights are simply jaw-dropping and a sequence on the snowy, windy peaks of Chamonix is brilliantly cinematic, capturing the hair-raising risk and simultaneous tranquillity of highlining. At times the narrative feels messily constructed and random asides which delve into the pasts of Jossi and The Flying Frenchies feel aimlessly positioned. But the film’s thrilling, beautifully shot footage helps amend for this disorganised narrative.

The Free ManThe Free Man is insightfully narrated by Fraser who explores what drives these remarkable thrill-seekers. For many of them it’s the feeling of total freedom from their surroundings which they reach when conquering fear. Fraser questions whether reaching this kind of transcendence is worth the danger these individuals expose themselves to. While it doesn’t cover any particularly ground-breaking material, Jossi’s story provides a profound study of fear, freedom and the human condition.

While not for the faint-hearted, The Free Man offers a spectacularly shot and thought-provoking glimpse into the world and psychology of extreme sports.