Haroun Souirji: Better Than Chocolate

posted by dpm on 04/16/2011

Haroun Souirji is a Belgian filmmaker that has just put the finishing touches on his first film, Better than ChocolateBetter than Chocolate is a full-length, feature film showcasing the world-class bouldering of Switzerland and stars some great climbers including: Paul Robinson, Michele Caminati, Fred Nicole and others.  The release of Better than Chocolate also coincides with the opening of DPM’s new climbing film distribution site: hdclimbingvideos.com.  The site is up and running and pre-orders for Better than Chocolate can be made here.  But first, let’s check in with Haroun to find out what you can expect from his movie.   



Click the image to watch the trailer


DPM:  Haroun, this is your first feature film and people are wondering who you are and where you came from.  How old are you?  Where are you from?  When did you get into climbing?


Haroun:  Well, I’m 25 and I come from Couvin, a little town in southern Belgium.  I started climbing pretty late, around 19-20, it was during the first year at university.  After my first session of climbing, it was kind of a revelation and I did not miss a single week of climbing for a year after.  I also lost a lot of weight as I was not exactly the sports guy.  My level evolved pretty quickly until I started getting injuries.  After that I got back into climbing but hurt my back in Mallorca (on a DWS trip) and was unable to do sports for a year.  When my injury got better, I was busy with my master’s thesis and the shooting of the movie but now climbing is back on top of my list of priorities.  During all the shooting in Switzerland, I was only able to climb once!  Some of my climbing goals would be to boulder in Hueco and sport climb in Red River Gorge… I also want to go back to Mallorca really bad…


Michele Caminati on The Dagger (8b+).  All photos from: Better than Chocolate


DPM:  What got you interested in filmmaking?  What are some of your favorite climbing movies and how did they influence your film.    


Haroun:  I have done photography for years now, mostly abstract/surreal photography, I only did a few climbing shots one day… I decided to switch from making photos of objects to filming climbers almost in a day.  One of the reasons I went to video is probably that I tried Adobe After Effects and just loved making animations. That made me realize that capturing moving subjects is what I really wanted to do.

I don’t have any favorite movie but there is one that is special to me.  Dosage Vol. 2 is the first climbing movie I have ever seen and I was really impressed by it.  I don’t know if it influenced BTC as the styles are quite different but that movie is definitely special to me.


Olivier Mignon on Voigas, Magic Wood, Switzerland


DPM:  What is your background in filmmaking?  Were you educated in how to do it?  How did you learn all this?


Haroun:  I don’t have much background in video.  I made a few personal videos with a pocket camera.  Even cellphones have more options now.  Then I decided video was my thing so I sold my old EOS 40D, all my climbing DVD’s and more stuff to buy a Canon 7D.  I did my short in Font, people liked it, and 3 month later I went for the feature film.  So basically I’ve been doing videos for a year.

I finished management studies in last September, while I was already shooting for Better Than Chocolate.  Be it for photo, video or design, I am self-taught.  For video, photography background helped a lot, even more since I am using a video DSLR.  I learned composition and image techniques while doing photos.  Photographing the fog, toys and fields was not a waste of time!


DPM:  What were some of the challenges you faced once you decided to make a movie?


Haroun:  Well first was that I needed money.  Even though I build my cinema gear in my kitchen… (both for short film in Font and BTC) there are costs you cannot avoid.  I learned that a car seat is not that bad to sleep in for a long time…

Then when I got the financing, it was simply being productive during the shooting session itself.  It was basically all firsts for me, from pre to post-production.  Probably the most annoying thing was the insane amount of rainy days we had.  During one of the shooting trips, we were able to film only a few days spread over 3 weeks.  And to add to that it was the only 3 weeks I rented a place with real beds instead of sleeping in the car or the camping and that cost a big part of the budget of the movie.  That was money well spent haha… The crew spent a lot of time playing Left 4 Dead, drinking Belgian special beers and watching Breaking Bad episodes.

But I guess this is also one of the best things in doing such a project, it’s coping with reality  … and working half of the time outdoors is a dream.  My studies are supposed to lead to jobs in huge offices with few holidays and a lot of hierarchy to respect.  I’d rather be a monk than do that.


Michele Caminati on Ganymede Takeover (8a+), Brione.


DPM:  I understand this movie was partially financed by the Chimay-Wartoise Foundation.  What is that?


Haroun:  Chimay is maybe the most famous Belgian beer, it’s a special beer, a “monk’s” beer.  As a “monk’s” beer, they must invest their income in the monastery or share it to help local projects.  I am from that region (I was born in Chimay) so I applied and was one of the 40 or so projects that got a grant.  It’s a little grant compared to the biggest climbing movies budget but for Better Than Chocolate, I think it would not exist without this help.


DPM:  Where does the movie take place?


Haroun:  It takes place in Switzerland.  I heard so much about it I wanted to check for myself if it was that good.  With one of the biggest concentration of first class bouldering areas in the northern hemisphere, it was a quick decision to film there.

In Switzerland, we filmed in all the most famous areas: Magic Wood, Cresciano, Chironico and Brione. We also filmed in less know areas, such as San Gottardo and Fionnay.

About Brione: People live next to the boulders during spring and summer so PLEASE do not go there at that time otherwise we might lose it for good!  Anyway, best conditions are in Fall and Winter…


DPM:  How long did you spend shooting the movie?


Haroun:  I started shooting in July and finished shooting in early February of this year.  I spent about 1/3 of that time in Switzerland.


"Crash surfing"


DPM:  Once you had the footage what were some of the challenges you faced with editing and production?  Was it difficult doing everything yourself from filming to post-production? 


Haroun:  The biggest challenge was staying focused.  I had some support for the shooting of a few boulders and to manage premieres but I have worked on all the rest (most still photo, design, website, music licensing …) alone.  That means a lot of pressure to work with but a lot of pleasure when work is done.  Definitely, the team will get bigger for next project hopefully allowing for a more complex project.

The editing and production is the hardest part and I think this is what requires the most experience.   This is the aspect where I can still learn the most.  Compared to that, capturing the footage was easy as it mostly used my photographic and managing skills.


DPM:  You mentioned that you are daltonian (color-blind).  How did this affect the production?  Any challenges?


Haroun:  I have problems with red and green.  In the beginning it was a problem when correcting colors but I ended up thinking, “What the hell, if it looks weird I can always say it’s an artistic choice!”


Paul Robinson on From Dirt Grows the Flowers (8c).


DPM:  So tell me about the movie.  You’ve stated that viewer’s shouldn’t expect much of a storyline, just raw action and hard climbing.  Is this a throwback to old-school climbing, skate and snowboard videos?


Haroun:  Yes, the story is not the main aspect of BTC… I’d rather have less talk than forcing some talking that does not add to the movie.  BTC is about going on a rock climbing trip in the best areas of Switzerland, period.  If on another project I feel like more storyline makes sense, I will put more of it in.

But yes BTC is in the style and pace closer to a BMX or snowboard movie.  I really wanted to avoid the outdoor equipment brand advert look.  The pace is slower and the style is humble.  By humble, I mean that the goal was to show the pleasure it is to be climbing outdoors rather than insist on making the climbers look bad ass or super cool. The focus is definitely on the boulders and crags.

Also, I’ve had enough of the non-stop slow motion in climbing flicks. There is almost no slow motion in the movie and it’s a choice. Slow-motion can be great but I feel like sometimes it’s used as a way to cover poor cinematography shots.  Also, I think that you can see the difference in style between climbers much better without slow motion.  For example, Paul Robinson has a really controlled style and I think seeing it real time shows the clear difference with, for example the dynamic style of Michele Caminati.


DPM:  So what should we expect when we sit down to watch this film?  Tell us a bit about it.


Haroun:  People should expect nice climbing with attention to the cinematography.  People wanting to go to Switzerland (or having already gone there) should be the most interested but with hard repeats and first ascents, BTC also has value for people not planning to go boulder in Switzerland.

In general, you can expect a laid back, chilled-out movie that doesn’t take climbing too seriously.


DPM:  Who are some of the stars of the video?  Who did you most enjoy working with?


Haroun: I really enjoyed working with all of the climbers.  I had the most fun with climbers that I spent the most time with but for the next movie I hope to have more time with those I know less.

Michele Caminati became a good friend.  He’s a fun and simple guy.  We also share a passion for Belgian beer so I brought him beers and he brought Italian Panetone.  Haha.  He had a really good Swiss season this year, including an ascent of The Dagger (V14).  We filmed a lot together.

Paul Robinson is a very humble and cool guy, despite his status of climbing superstar.  The most impressive climbing I have ever seen was watching him on From Dirt Grows the Flowers (V15).  He says he climbs in a controlled style and it’s very true.  The funny thing is, he is so in control (not jumping from hold to hold) that when I ran the footage in reverse, it did not seem weird at all!

Robert Leistner and Julia Winter are also two very talented and friendly climbers.  I was lucky that in the movie, Julia climbed her first V11 and Robert his first V13 (he did it in one session…).  Also, managing climbing at that level with a young baby is impressive and inspiring.  Climbing V11 is impressive alone but climbing her first V11 less than 10 month after giving birth, WOW.

Chris Webb Parsons and Alex Puccio also spent some time with us.  I had so much fun with those two, including a Belgium vs. USA contest making crêpes between Alex Puccio and Olivier Mignon.  Too bad weather was shit when they were here and Alex hurt her finger.  So I was only able to film one boulder with Chris and not at all with Alex.  I was actually very afraid for Alex but she recently won the ABS nationals …

Another strong competitor is Jule Wurm.  She placed 2nd at European championship, giving real competition to Anna Stöhr, multiple world champion.  We only had a short filming session as she has to juggle with studies.  Jule is really sweet and I hope we will film together again.

The rest of the crew is Anthony Gullsten, Olivier Mignon, Anton Johansson, Antoine Eydoux (and his dog Sai that you can see in the trailer) and Fred Moix.  These are the people I spent the most time with.  They are a great crew of impressive and crazy people.  I would also tell you to watch for the two youngest, Anthony and Olivier.  I wonder what these guys are going to climb in the coming years.  Anthony is also a very good sport climber (even though he almost never sport climbs…), completing his first 5.14b and first 5.14c in Ceuse last year.

Last but not least, the little time I had with Fred Nicole was great.  He is the most humble person ever, even if he defined the standards of hardcore bouldering and still climbs at the highest level.  In my next movie, he will do more than a guest appearance I hope.


Fred Nicole


DPM:  Better than Chocolate…How did you come up with the title and what meaning does it have?


Haroun:  It relates to Swiss chocolate.  The idea is that Swiss boulders “taste” even better than Swiss chocolate.  Yeah, it’s not what one would call a deep meaning…


DPM:  We’re all wondering Haroun, when will the video be released and where can we get it?


Haroun:  The movie will be available in May through DPM’s new distribution site www.hdclimbingvideos.com (pre-orders available now), on the official website of the movie, and in shops.  There will be a DVD and an HD download.

There will also be a tour with dates in Europe, USA and even Brazil.  Please visit the website for the details.


DPM:  What’s next?  Any more movie plans?


Haroun:  I won’t give a lot of info but I have many different places in mind.  I am not sure yet if my next movie is going to be 100% bouldering.  What I can say is that I have tons of ideas.  I hope this is only the first movie but I’m definitely going to go on a short trip to climb before starting the next movie!


DPM:  The trailer looks amazing and I can’t wait to see it.  Thanks for all your hard work to keep us psyched.  Anything you’d like to add Haroun?


Haroun:  I would like to thank first the climbers for trusting me and collaborating.  We had a great time together as I guess people will be able to tell in the footage.   I also want to thank all the other people that helped, especially Fred Moix, Clemens Arndt and Thomas “Steini” Steinbrugger. For the same reason I want to thank Mammut and DPM for trusting me, even though I didn’t have much of a portfolio…


Click here to pre-order Better Than Chocolate.