5Point Adventure Film Festival: Documentary celebrates Carbondale’s age-defying ‘Frenchy’
The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘The Frenchy’ at 5Point Adventure Film Festival
Where: Carbondale Rec Center
When: Thursday, April 19, 7 p.m.
More info: ‘The French is one of 13 short films in Thursday’s program, hosted by Paddy O’Connell. The 5Point Adventure Film Festival runs through Sunday.
If you’ve spent much time on local trails in recent years, you may have seen Jacques “Frenchy” Houot ripping by on skis or on a mountain bike. If you’ve competed in races, the vivacious octogenarian has probably cheered you on. If you’re a young woman, he’s most likely flirted with you.
Michelle Smith’s 15-minute documentary, “The Frenchy,” offers a colorful portrait of the ageless, irrepressible Houot, following the Carbondale-based legend as he laughs and speeds through ages 82 and 83.
“The Frenchy” will premiere today in the 5Point Adventure Film Festival’s opening night program in Carbondale.
“I am 41 years old, each leg,” Houot says early in the film, which documents Houot skiing shirtless, biking the technical terrain on Mushroom Rock and the dramatic bank turns on the Snowmass downhill course, pedaling a fat tire bike through the snow, paragliding and offering nuggets of wisdom from his Carbondale home.
If there’s a fountain of youth, he suggests, it’s laughter.
“When you laugh, you add one extra hour to your life,” Houot says. “I’m going to die very old because I love to laugh.”
Houot’s all-purpose response to hardship: “No problem!” It’s served him well through cancer, a heart attack at age 52, an avalanche, countless crashes and, by his count, “23 or 24” close calls with death.
A nagging back injury, he says in the film, was cured by volunteering at a disabled military veterans’ ski race at Aspen Highlands.
“They don’t complain,” he says in the film. “I said to myself, ‘I don’t have a right to complain.’ … Then I said ‘No problem!’ to my back. That fixed me.”
Funded through a Kickstarter campaign, “The Frenchy” is Smith’s second film as a director, following a short about the Maroon Belles trail-running club. She’s been working for Basalt-based photographer and filmmaker Pete McBride on his films over the past four years.
Smith had been hunting for a unique subject when she met Houot.
“I really wanted to make a character profile short film,” Smith said in a recent interview.
As she mulled subjects, “Frenchy” burst into Smith’s life in the spring of 2016 when she was shooting footage of the Shaka ’Cross mountain bike race in Carbondale.
“There’s Jacques, up in my face telling me stories — the camera just kept moving to him throughout the day,” she recalled.
Clearly, this was the character she had been looking for.
“I immediately knew,” Smith said. “I couldn’t believe no one had tried to make a film about him. I was like, ‘I’ve got to make a film about Jacques. He’s one of a kind.’ ”
Houot was an enthusiastic subject. As Smith recalled, he was eager to share his life story and his idiosyncratic health remedies — often arriving at her home unannounced to impart wisdom, tell jokes, chat about his day or discuss the latest World Cup race results.
“The energy was infectious,” Smith said. “He is just nonstop.”
Smith is hopeful that her film will inspire viewers to put age aside and live life to the fullest.
“I want people to think that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still do what you want with your life, have fun and laugh,” Smith said. “That’s the most important thing. … You can defy aging if you have the right attitude.”