Watching the archival footage in Sunshine Superman, a look at the life of BASE jumping pioneer Carl Boenish, does more than capture the energy of its subject. It also provides the film with stunning shots that demand to be seen on a big screen.
Fusing together footage from short films created by Boenish and interviews with people who knew him, Sunshine Superman director Marah Strauch creates an exhilarating view of a man whose life was spent on the edge of risky behavior. Boenish, who took his love of skydiving and turned it into a career as a filmmaker who dove from everything from skyscrapers to the Troll Wall in Norway, captured breathtaking shots of Earth from the point of view of jumpers, moving beyond individuals jumping to show people connecting during their descents.
The film traces Boenish’s story from his childhood, part of which was spent confined to a wheelchair while recovering from polio. The film also touches on his work as an aerial photographer on The Gypsy Moths, a 1969 skydiving feature. In some instances, Boenish’s story is shown through staged reenactments instead of archival footage. Most of these shots work well; the exceptions tend to involve more personal moments, such as those involving Boenish with his wife and fellow BASE jumping pioneer, Jean.
Watching the film isn’t entirely inspirational, though. As the film progresses, there’s a sense of some looming tragedy, which only becomes more clear when the viewer realizes that Boenish’s interviews are limited to archival footage. The film manages to avoid Boenish’s ultimate fate for nearly an hour, which works to the film’s favor. While it’s clearly important to Strauch to show the inherent dangers to BASE jumping, that’s not the primary focus of Sunshine Superman. It’s the idea that, as much as BASE jumping might provide a rush, it also creates a special feeling of peace. And the film conveys that feeling spectacularly.