Friday Flick: Sunshine Superman

Sunshine Superman shows us what it feels like to jump off a cliff and walk away alive.

In the freewheeling 1970s, what is now considered an “extreme sport” was considered simply crazy. Jumping off a building or bridge with only a few moments to release your parachute was not only illegal, it was deemed suicidal, even by many seasoned skydivers. Yet this is not a film about death. It is about the essence of life—of what it feels like, if for only a moment, to truly fly.

 

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In that era of danger and excitement, a man named Carl Boenish helped coin the acronym “BASE”, which stands for Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth—the various objects from which Carl and his friends would jump. Carl was the catalyst behind modern fixed-object jumping; an electrical engineer and filmmaker who believed in BASE-jumping as a spiritual practice through which mankind would overcome its self-imposed limitations. He religiously chronicled the early days of BASE in beautiful 16mm film, often with cameras mounted to the jumpers’ heads. Carl’s skills were perfectly married to his milieu and his moment, as he was able to capture on film the very birth of the activity of foot-launched human flight.

Carl’s story, and his visual chronicle of an era, could have easily been obscured in the era of YouTube, or at least remained hidden within BASE’s secretive culture. Several years ago, however, director Marah Strauch and producer Eric Bruggemann began research for what was originally to be a short film on early BASE-jumping. As Strauch interviewed the people who had witnessed the sport’s birth, and discovered more and more footage of ordinary men and women in fearless flight, she understood that BASE’s story was much larger, much wilder, and far more beautiful than she could have guessed.

 

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Jean and Carl Boenish in SUNSHINE SUPERMAN, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

 

The Boenish archive, to which the filmmakers have been granted exclusive rights, is utilized extensively throughout Sunshine Superman, as are many other early films and videos documenting BASE’s eccentric characters, historic moments, and tragic losses. In the eight-year process of making Sunshine Superman, the filmmakers have archived and restored thousands of feet of original films and other historical material. And yet the film does far more than recover these lost documents. Marah Strauch has traveled the globe to conduct personal interviews, revisit tragic settings, and above all to document the living, breathing continuation of the story Carl Boenish set in motion.

“At its core Sunshine Superman is a love story,” says Strauch. “As a filmmaker I wanted to capture the essence of danger and the bitter sweetness of falling in love. I am interested in characters that pursue activities or goals that most people would think are waste of time and in this case a death wish. This film is about having your breath taken away, either by love, passion, or by dizzying heights. This film is on the surface about discovering a new extreme sport, in the 1980s in California. On a deeper level the film explores themes of death, obsession, and living an authentic life despite the consequences.

 

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A scene from SUNSHINE SUPERMAN, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

 

When finding the look of the film I gave cinematographers Nico Poulsson and Vasco Nunes many references for the look of film from European Romantic painters, to Andy Warhol’s portraits, to Scandinavian design catalogues from the 1980s. We looked at sources that create a very stylized and cohesive film that will hopefully feel very familiar yet different due to the subject matter and milieu.  We created a film that embellishes the patina of the 1980 in California and Scandinavia. At the same time showing the beauty and sublime Romanticism of nature and man in nature.

I was interested in creating a film that pushes the boundaries between documentary and narrative. Sunshine Superman makes use of the expansive nature of the story and scenery.  We shot on location in Los Angeles, Texas, and Norway. We shot the film as if it were a large-scale narrative production.

We attached cameras in places that can only be reached by highly talented rock climbers. We shot BASE jumpers flying from mountains with state of the art equipment. We shot a non-fiction film but I am fully intending Sunshine Superman to offer a visceral cinematic experience.”

Find out how and where to watch Sunshine Superman here.

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