Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man meets James Marsh’s Man on Wire in this triumphant documentary about one man with one intense passion for throwing himself off of cliffs; the art of BASE jumping. For Carl Boenish, sky-diving just wasn’t enough of a thrill. His passion for heights and adrenaline enabled him to carve out a career in the movies, co-coordinating sky-diving shoots and safety. The pioneer of the BASE jumping movement, Boenish spent his days risking his life in order to feel truly alive and in order to inspire others. Sunshine Superman is the début feature documentary from director Marah Strauch. Celebrating Carl’s unique zest for life, his courage, his ambition, his joyous marriage and his eventual tragic fate, Sunshine Superman is a documentary of celebration and inspiration rather than one of sorrow and loss. First and foremost Boenish was a cameraman. It was as important to him to capture his sport on camera as it was to partake in it in the first place. This fact means Sunshine Superman is alive with vertigo-inducing footage from the man himself. Archive film of his television appearances and interviews is also incorporated, alongside talking heads of those whose lives he entered, touched and changed. Most prominently of all is Carl’s wife Jean – patronisingly described by others as “librarian-looking” but who literally threw herself into the passions of her husband. Their marriage turned into a professional partnership in which they continued to challenge gravity from the tops of antennas, cliffs and sky-scrapers.
Jean is always at the film’s heart and her honesty, bravery and commitment make Sunshine Superman the moving people-study it is. Moving from triumph to tragedy, the film is always driven by the spirit of Carl and the unbeatable optimism he saw in the world. The film’s cinematography and camera work is credited mainly to him – making him the most admirable contributor to this movie alongside the director, editor etc. Use of Boenish’s own footage reflects the use of Timothy Treadwell’s home movies in Grizzly Man – an intelligent, apt and haunting tool that reminds us of their absence. A film that embraces the energy of its main subject, Sunshine Superman is joyful, spirited and inspiring. Boenish himself once remarked that he did not intend for his sport to inspire others to jump off cliffs but merely to inspire them – perhaps to take a leap of faith in another area of their life; be it at work, in love or at the grocery store. The film echoes this mantra – it’s not a film that will make you want to plummet 800 feet towards the ground but it will certainly inspire and uplift.
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