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Pic of Duncan at the Dame du Lac

  US Traceur Duncan Germain (aka TK17) recently released a Parkour film that has the distinction of being endorsed by David Belle. At 90 minutes long 'Pilgrimage' is a Herculean effort which is being widely recognised as the definitive documentary for parkour, past and present.

So just who is Duncan Germain, and why did he take on such an enormous project like Pilgrimage? Worldwide JAM goes behind the scenes to find out.
Link to Pilgrimage Parkour Film


NAME Duncan Germain
DOB 21/04/86
LIVES Burlington, North Carolina, USA

WJ: As a bit of background tell us about yourself?

DG: I WEAR GLASSES WHEN I FREERUN how cool is that. And I also freerun in jeans. So if you spot a ginger in jeans wearing glasses vaulting a rail, odds are it's me.

Other interests outside of pk/fr and video work are LEGOs, novel writing, some amateur music mixing, making Jedi outfits from scratch, etc.
I've only got five shirts (all black), one pair of jeans, one pair of jean shorts, one pair of shoes at a time, and the jacket I wore in Go. I don't believe in having more stuff than you need, and I'm a fan of simplicity/asceticism.
Currently a junior at UNC Chapel Hill, to become a middle school English teacher.

My only sampler that I actually want people to see: Go, available for download or on Youtube.

WJ: How did you get into parkour?

DG: My own personal bio in the world of parkour and freerunning is pretty standard, I guess, at least in terms of how I got started. I've been a martial artist (Tae Kwon Do) since I was twelve, started in 1999. In 2002, I went to a boarding school for junior and senior year of high school, and was separated from my academy for the first time.

To stay interested and motivated in my TKD training, I started browsing the internet for tricking videos, which became a habit. I started learning some basic acro in the wrestling room at that school, where they stored the track mats, learned front, back, and wallflip there. When I got to UNC, my freshman year I was on Bilang and they had this video posted ... "Hey, guys, sorry this isn't really martial arts, but we thought it was pretty freakin' cool anyway, so ..." and it was the vid "Evolution," by a team that was at the time called Supertricks. I joined their forum, which had only about thirty members at the time, and thus always had a very strong, personal connection both to the team and to the European community.

WJ: When did you first get to bridge the Atlantic?

DG: Over time, I began to forge some pretty solid friendships, as well as some actual clear definitions between parkour, tricking, street stunts, freerunning, etc. Eventually, I decided, I had to get over to England (remember that at this time, 2004, 2005, there was still virtually NO ONE in the North Carolina area doing parkour unless I had introduced them to it myself). My first big project was a result of that trip, the 3Run Family Video, which was kind of a manifesto of that community. THAT WAS ALSO MY FIRST TRIP TO LISSES, summer of 2006.

WJ: What exactly inspired you to create Pilgrimage?

DG: The beginnings of what ended up being Pilgrimage came out of the aftermath of the 3Run Family Video. It was a success, and it hadn't been that difficult to make, so I turned my attention to the next level, which was obviously a full-length documentary. I'd already seen Jump London and Jump Britain (and loved them both), but I'd been paying very close attention to every scrap of info I could find on parkour and its history, and was conscious of some small holes here and there, as well as some things that weren't holes so much as just other topics that might be useful in a parkour doc, but hadn't been included. So I suppose it began as a desire to make a "complete" parkour documentary, one that did its best to leave out nothing.

The idea didn't go anywhere for a while, and I turned my attention to my own personal sampler, "Go," which was starting to come together at the beginning of 2007.

Pic of David Belle
David Belle

Then, while I was reading some threads on .net about David Belle, I started to think about how ... fragmented? ... the parkour/freerunning community was really becoming, with all these little armed camps in opposition to one another ... UF hating on 3Run, .net seeming elitist, local forums being lost in the shuffle, beginners having no idea where to go. It seemed to me that most of us were on the same page as Belle, so why all the tension?

WJ: It seems amazing that a guy in the states who is virtually training alone has such a strong connection with parkour.

DG: This really mattered to me, because, being all alone over in North Carolina, pretty much all I had was the internet. My only community was the online community, so if it wasn't actually a community, I had nothing. I had a very vested interest in developing a sense of togetherness, because without it, who would I stay with in Europe? Who would I talk to in slow periods of training? Who else would understand what I was doing or going through? That sort of thing.

WJ: Your dedication to developing 'community' became quite renowned on, what other projects have you been involved with?

DG: I came up with the Hand for David Belle project, which I won't go into here because I'm sure you either know about it or could find out quickly. My ostensible goal was to give thanks to David for all that he's done for us, but underlying it was this goal of getting everybody thinking about one another, and realizing that a lot of us are thinking the same things. And in doing so, I also keyed into this idea that David Belle, the founder, the origins, and the history ... that this was becoming more and more important to a lot of traceurs, as people got to the level where they wanted the "truth," and wanted to know how things were really meant to be, the proper method of parkour, its true goals and purpose.

And that's when Pilgrimage really formed in my head. Lisses ... we all go there, we all want to see it, it's important to all of us. Why? Suddenly I had a "lens" for my documentary ... I wanted to look at parkour through the journey to Lisses. In explaining what Lisses is and why it matters to us, I felt I could SHOW (rather than telling) the true spirit of parkour. And at the same time, going through Lisses gave me opportunities to touch on a lot of things that no video had ever done so far ... to talk about imitation versus innovation, to discuss travel and this sort of international brotherhood that's quickly evolving, to explain parkour from its beginnings to its present state, to really demonstrate the need for respect and community service.

"I had a way to include everyone, because everyone's Lisses videos were already online and available, and I knew from the beginning that I did NOT want this to be just "my" video"

The project gave me a chance to get in touch with traceurs all around the world, up to and including Belle himself. Most importantly to me, by funneling my message through the pilgrimage, I had a way to include everyone, because everyone's Lisses videos were already online and available, and I knew from the beginning that I did NOT want this to be just "my" video.

It was a pretty daunting undertaking, now that I look back at it. My second visit to Lisses was in May/June 2007, when I delivered the hand project and took most of the raw footage for the video.

It was a little bit on-the-fly, because I still had no real outline or plan, just a general idea of what the project would be. Originally, I thought it would only be 40 minutes long, more like the 3Run Family Video than like Jump London or Jump Britain ... it was only when I got home and actually began editing that it started to grow. But we still filmed EVERYTHING, knowing that it would kill to get back home and be missing ONE CLIP.

Pic of Duncan at the Summit of Dame du Lac
Duncan at the summit of Dame du Lac

We ended up recording about twice as many narrations as were included in the final product, covering every topic we could think of, and making each one self-contained so that none of them would be invalidated if another wasn't included. We took the camera everywhere, filling up a total of 32 tapes (I think ... it might have been 23). The best part was when we managed to make friends with Jean Luc, the elderly Frenchman, who both agreed to an interview AND was crucial in our efforts to contact Belle.

Anyway, we got home, and I got to work. From June 2007 to February 2008 I was working, and I think I ultimately logged about 2000 work hours ... sometimes it was all I did between school and bed. I edited the video chronologically, so the footprints were the first thing to be done, and the Dame du Lac and the credits the last.

I had put the word out for raw footage on, but only received two videos through that ... most of the raw footage besides my own came from download links, some taken straight off Youtube. I worked in FinalCut Pro, recording narrations with the built-in microphone on my Mac, and essentially just went step by step, first choosing the goal of the upcoming section, then choosing music to match it, then assembling my footage, writing narration, and filling in the blanks. Due to difficulties in getting my diction right, I recorded each narration at least fifteen times, and still remember them all by heart.

"It was important to me to step away from the whole list' mentality, in terms of "Learn catleaps and kong vaults and the roll" ... and the obstacle-focus seemed to me to be the most original and simple way to get it done, a method I don't think anyone else had attempted yet"

The first twenty minutes (the "pre-Lisses" section) was the hardest. The black-and-white description took nearly a month just by itself. The videos were done with a simple filter/effect, but all of the still images had to be drawn, pixel by pixel, in a program that's essentially a Mac version of Paint. All of the graphics/animation was similarly done frame-by-frame, using the images themselves as a base, because I don't have any knowledge of animation yet (all of my video skills come from trial-and-error and watching parkour vids ... I've never had any real training).

It was important to me to step away from the whole "list" mentality, in terms of "Learn catleaps and kong vaults and the roll" ... and the obstacle-focus seemed to me to be the most original and simple way to get it done, a method I don't think anyone else had attempted yet.

The Lisses map animation was similarly difficult, but went easier after having the black-and-white experience. I used a video capture tool and Google Earth to do the hard stuff, and after that just had fun with it (making the magnifying glass took an entire evening).

Once we actually got to Lisses, the video almost wrote itself. I had the narrations we had already filmed as a rough guide, and I knew the locations I wanted to cover and most of the topics that I wanted to discuss ... the only tricky part was finding the right order.

It was important to me that each section of the vid be able to stand mostly on its own, and ALSO that each section include as many traceurs as possible. So in creating any given section, I first went through EVERY Lisses vid I had, and lifted out and assembled each and every clip dealing with that location. I did this for each of the segments, and boy was that a pain, but in the end I think it made the project a lot stronger and more inclusive.

The other narrations were done by Luc Dunn and David Lanning, two friends of mine from here in North Carolina who got into parkour with me (the intro footprint narration was done by Mark Menees, a black belt at my academy), and the voice-over was kindly sent to me by Scott Bass, a traceur from Cambridge.

"togetherness and willingness to help out is exactly what I was hoping to foster"

The painting was suggested by the interview we did with Jean Luc, and Luc, David, a traceur named Dom from Cambridge, and I all went to the shop on our last day and bought the soap and paint ... Jean Luc let us use his sink for buckets. We were unable to finish it, since we ran out of money and time, but a traceur named David from Canada (Guardian) came out of nowhere and, when he saw what we were doing, immediately volunteered to finish for us. And he did ... the next day, after we were gone, he went and bought his own paint and came back and wrapped it up all on his own, which probably made me happier than anything else, since that sort of togetherness and willingness to help out is exactly what I was hoping to foster.

Any one of us can make a difference, but all of us working together can be INCREDIBLE. I didn't include their names (or my own) in the video because I wanted the anonymity to serve the overall feeling that we were speaking for everybody ... that our own identities were less important, in this context, than the fact that we were traceurs on the pilgrimage.

And then, before you know it, it was done. I was working towards a March 6th deadline because I had plans to return to Europe, and David Belle had agreed to meet with me to discuss the project, so I darn sure wasn't going to NOT have it ready for Mr. Belle. ;) Another local traceur, Kristopher Holmquist, volunteered to do the subtitling for me (he speaks French), and at that point it was ready to roll.

David didn't ask for any changes (in fact, he actually asked for an extra copy, saying he was going to show it to the mayor of Lisses!), so as soon as I got home I included one or two last-minute clips and just put it online.

There's a chance it will be widely available in DVD format someday, if I can work my head around the economics of it. I don't feel I have the right to take any money as a result of this, both because it's not in the parkour spirit, and because so much of the footage came from everyone else, so why would I deserve a profit? But if there's demand, I'll try, and any surplus cash would go directly into funding for community projects in Lisses.

WJ: Looking back now, especially after all the praise you've been receiving from the parkour community, do you think you've achieved your objectives?

DG: The project was hard, but worthwhile. My major goals were to spread the proper spirit of parkour as David Belle sees it, to teach beginners, to offer help to those making the pilgrimage, and to highlight some important issues that are often neglected. I hope that, as a result, more people get into parkour, more people do community service in Lisses, and more people recognize that we are ALL in this together.

WJ: What next?

DG: Who knows? I plan on spending six weeks in Lisses over the summer, as well as attending the TRACE gathering and the 3Run Family Jam in London. I'll be taking my camera, and I'm sure to see a lot of skilled traceurs (including Belle, who has agreed to meet) and a lot of good spots, so we'll just have to see.


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