Marah Strauch, Eric Bruggemann, Alex Gibney, Joe Berlinger, Josh Braun and Dan Braun of "Sunshine Superman" at the NYFF
Go ahead. Take a step closer to the edge. Don’t be afraid to look down. That dizzying sensation you’re experiencing is the same one you’ll get from peering into Sunshine Superman, a history of the extreme adventure sport of BASE jumping. The film is a testament to the past and modern-day devotees of this death-defying—and sometimes failing—sport.
Carl Boenish, an aerial cinematographer, popularized the recreational stunts in the 1970s and 1980s. Jump off a mountain with only a parachute and no safety net? No problem. Film the whole journey down? Even better for Boenish. Sunshine Superman digs deep into Boenish’s archival footage and into his relationship with his wife, Jean, who became the first female BASE jumper.
Placing this documentary into the hands of a first-time filmmaker is a risk all its own, but the final product proves that Marah Strauch was the right choice. Unlike the BASE jumpers themselves, Strauch provided the film with the security of artful guidance and structure, grounding it in Carl and Jean’s love story and Carl’s life philosophies. In Strauch’s words, “On a deeper level the film explores themes of death, obsession, and living an authentic life despite the consequences….Boenish pushed his own physical limits to make films. He was transcending the physical, to find the spiritual. He was flying. Carl wanted to share the joy of BASE jumping with the world.”
An early version of Sunshine Superman led to Strauch’s acceptance into the Film Independence Fast Track program and earned her the backing of a number of impressive documentarians, including several that joined her and us on the red carpet at the film’s New York Film Festival screening. In what’s undoubtedly a reflection of Sunshine Superman’s, and the BASE jumpers’, team spirit, the whole group spoke with us together. That group was comprised of producer Eric Bruggemann, who’s edited films with such documentary heavyweights as Alex Gibney (also a producer) and Joe Berlinger, and twin brothers Josh and Dan Braun, entertainment thrillseekers in their own rights through Submarine Entertainment and the revived Creepy Archives.
We learned from that interview that Strauch’s uncle, who is also a BASE jumper and an aerial cinematographer, was the poker that stoked her Sunshine Superman fire. As with most of Strauch’s projects, she pursued the subject simply because she wanted to know more about it. Of course, watching Carl Boenish’s footage was impressive, but Strauch showed off her directorial instincts by pinpointing that the interviews with him and Jean make up the heart of the story, not the sights they saw along the way.
Although there were a few skydivers among the interviewees, Strauch reminded our host that New York City can be plenty dangerous all on its own! And helicopter rides were enough of a risk for her to take to get more footage for the film. Bruggeman shared how he could sense that betting on Strauch was no true risk after meeting her for the first time years ago. Josh Braun seconded that notion, expounding upon the talent he sees in Strauch’s work. Although Dan Braun sadly contributed none of his music to the film’s score, he made plenty of noise(s) describing the reactions audiences have had while rocketing to the ground along with the BASE jumpers.
What cinematic chasm will Strauch bridge next? We can’t wait to take the plunge with her…as long as it’s from the safety of our cinema seats.