A heart-racing documentary portrait of Carl Boenish, the father of the BASE jumping movement, whose early passion for skydiving led him to ever more spectacular –and dangerous– feats of foot-launched human flight. Experience his jaw-dropping journey in life and love, to the pinnacle of his achievements when he and wife Jean broke the BASE jumping Guinness World Record in 1984 on the Norwegian 'Troll Wall' mountain range. Incredibly, within days, triumph was followed by disaster. Told through a stunning mix of Carl's 16mm archive footage, well-crafted re-enactments and state-of-the-art aerial photography, Sunshine Superman will leave you breathless and inspired.
About The Film
Sunshine Superman is a non-fiction feature that lets the audience experience 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 seemingly 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.
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 all of 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.
Jean and Carl Boenish in SUNSHINE SUPERMAN, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
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.
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. 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.
A scene from SUNSHINE SUPERMAN, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
“At its core Sunshine Superman is a love story. 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 1980’s in California. On a deeper level the film explores themes of death, obsession, and living an authentic life despite the consequences.
My uncle Mike Allen was a BASE jumper and aerial photographer and it is through him that I entered the world of BASE jumping. My uncle, who died in a 1991 auto accident, was a well-respected member of the BASE jumping community. He learned some of what he knew about aerial photography from watching the films of the Father of modern BASE jumping, Carl Boenish. Mike Allen left behind a pile of his BASE jumping videotapes and films and it is from these labels and titles that I found the fellow jumpers Mike had known. I also discovered the sport of BASE jumping; it struck me as an expression of freedom and a celebration of life. I was astonished and brought to tears by the beauty of the footage.
Carl Boenish was considered the most prominent inventor and the “Pied Piper” of BASE jumping. I was enthralled by the story of individuals who push themselves to transcend human limitations. Carl did not believe in man-made limitations. He believed BASE jumping was an expression of the human spirit. He was a visionary. Carl Boenish was also a filmmaker. He 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.
When finding the look of the film I gave Nico Poulsson and Vasco Nunes (the Norwegian and the US cinematographers) many references for the look of film from German/ European Romantic painters, to Andy Warhol’s portraits, to Scandinavian design catalogues from the 1980’s. 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.
Carl Boenish in SUNSHINE SUPERMAN, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
I was interested in creating a film that pushes the boundaries between documentary and narrative. Sunshine Superman makes use of the largeness and 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.
Press Release by Magnolia Pictures