Beautiful escapes into the ‘savage’ wild

French television crew stops to film salmon fishing report in area

Julien Roussel paused a moment and looked up.


His eyes met a large, mounted king crab in a shadow box near the ceiling. The Frenchman pulled his camera from beside his hip and in one smooth motion snapped a photo of it and leaned to his side.

"We don't have this kind of crab in France," he said, eyes open wide.

Roussel continued to look with wonder around the wall littered with the carcasses of various animals - moose, bear and birds.

To his right was Laurent Gracia, who spoke spotty English. Gracia gravitated to one of the most well-know items inside the Soldotna Visitor Center - a mounting of Les Anderson's famous world-record setting king salmon weighing in at 97.4 pounds.

Gracia trained his camera on the monster caged in glass. His camera, however, was a little larger than Roussel's and was shooting b-roll video for a French television show.

The French love to fish, Roussel explained, and the media has also piqued the nation's curiosity about the Alaskan wilderness.

"So, you know the movie ‘Into the Wild'?" Roussel asked. "It had a great success in France. So, it is good to explain, good to show to France what Alaska is all about."

Gracia, who operated the camera, and Roussel, his assistant, were in Soldotna on Friday to film a six-minute "report" on fishing on the Peninsula that will eventually be rolled into a 90-minute broadcast.

The show is called "Echappees Belles," or Beautiful Escapes, and airs on the country's nationalized television channel France 5. The Alaska show will premiere on Sept. 11 and can be seen at

Each week, the show features a new beautiful escape - like Brazil, Japan and Wyoming.

"Every week we are in a different country, so Alaska is one of the places in the world we need to go once," Roussel said.

Roussel and Gracia made up one of two teams filming throughout Alaska and filing reports on native people, bush pilots, Russian heritage and natural features.

There's something special about Alaska, Roussel said. Something not so foreign, but, in a way different than France.

"We like to see the wild," Roussel explained. "Here, it's savage. I think people are close to nature. There is a link between people and animals and nature and it is very important to keep this link and not to build too many roads."

"It is the last frontier as you all say - very true," he said.

Moments earlier, Roussel and Gracia trained their equipment on visitor center coordinator Tami Murray.

"Les' fish, this king salmon, a lot of people come here to try and beat that record and we have the second largest (king) over here," she said pointing to another glass tank filled with a salmon monstrosity, "which is just a few pounds lighter."

Murray said the crew emailed her randomly asking for assistance filming in the area. However, Murray said she is aggressively sending out letters to various producers in hopes of luring them to Alaska.

Roussel and Gracia's day consisted of filming the inside and outside of the Soldotna Visitor Center, a meal of fresh salmon at Mykel's Restaurant finally capped by watching fishermen bring in their catch at the Northstar Lodge.

They both agreed that they had found a worthy subject when they saw a 71-pound king hauled in by Will Colligan of San Jose, Calif.

The 18-year-old soon found himself with a camera and microphone in his face as he retold the story of the catch.

"Pretty wild, pretty wild," he said smiling as relatives and friends heckled him over his shoulder.

"It'll be pretty cool to go home and tell them I'm going to be on French TV for catching a big fish," he said.

For the moment, however, Colligan was concerned about the consequences of his newfound celebrity.

"I might get a little hazing tonight," he joked. "But hopefully nothing too bad - I think they're pretty proud of me."

Murray contends there are deep benefits from having a film crew shooting the area's bread-and-butter industry in the summer.

"It will definitely help with our tourism," Murray said, watching the fisherman take photos with Colligan's catch.

"Like they were saying, the French have started to love Alaska - this is just a great way for them to see what we have to offer. To have them pull up with this kind of fish, it's awesome."

Roussel grabbed his camera, too.

"We don't have this kind of fish in France," he said.