x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

'Spider-Man' biopic grounded over rules on safety harnesses

Alain Robert, the Frenchman notorious for climbing buildings without safety gear, said "if I am making a film about my life but I am climbing a building with rope, it's not exactly my story".

Alain Robert was obliged to wear safety equipment to climb the Burj Khalifa last March. Satish Kumar / The National
Alain Robert was obliged to wear safety equipment to climb the Burj Khalifa last March. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // Alain "Spider-Man" Robert, the Frenchman famed for scaling the world's tallest buildings, has scrapped plans to shoot a big-budget biopic in the UAE because he would not be allowed to climb without a safety harness.

Mr Robert, 49, wanted to film a 3D documentary featuring an unassisted climb of the Burj Khalifa or Burj Al Arab.

"The whole world knows me as the guy who climbs with no safety harness," he said. "So if I am making a film about my life but I am climbing a building with rope, it's not exactly my story."

Mr Robert climbed the Burj Khalifa in March of last year but had to use a harness. He said at the time that he would like to return early this year to repeat the climb without the equipment.

It was hoped that footage of the second climb would translate into a movie with similar acclaim to Man on Wire, the 2008 documentary about Philippe Petit, the tightrope walker who crossed between the Twin Towers in New York City in 1974.

"That's no longer on the agenda," Mr Robert said this week. "In the UAE, everything is easy to get the approval and climb with no rope, as long as you are not doing something that is iconic."

Instead, he says he will be climbing The Torch Doha without a harness.

He carried out a preliminary climb of the 300-metre Qatari building in April, and The Torch's manager, Gerhard Foltin, said at the time it was "fantastic" for the image of the tower.

Mr Robert claims to already have permission for a second climb and is now only waiting to raise sufficient funds for the film, which has been preliminarily named Web of Life and could be released in 2014.

Emaar, the master developer of the Burj Khalifa, declined to comment.

Filming his climb of the Burj Khalifa last year was difficult as Mr Robert was only notified two days before the climb that he had been given permission. The filming was also handicapped by a late start in the afternoon, which meant two-thirds of the climb was in darkness.

"I didn't really see a good result in terms of the filming, I was quite disappointed," Mr Robert said.

Even so, France's Absynthe Productions is planning on making a 52-minute film collected from footage taken at the time, including a large section on the preparation and negotiations that went on behind the scenes.

The film, which has been named Touch the Sky, has a budget of $500,000 (Dh1.8 million). However, filmmakers are still short of the last $100,000 and are hoping to use either crowd-funding or sponsorship to complete the last few scenes.

Javier Ercilla, the producer of the film, said that he hopes it will be shown at the Dubai International Film Festival next year.

"It tells the story of a man who tries to reach his dreams," he said.

"It's the confrontation between Alain and this building."

mcroucher@thenational.ae