Just over 30 years ago, Carl and Jean Boenish literally leapt into the history books by completing a successful tandem base jump off Norway’s Troll Wall. This epic high, however, was followed by tragedy – all part of a heart-jolting journey that would come to be documented in Marah Strauch’s debut feature, Sunshine Superman. Cunningly intertwining original footage from Carl’s (aka the founding father of base jumping himself), well-crafted re-enactments and cutting-edge aerial photography, the young director flings the Boenish’s story into focus, recently thrilling audiences at Melbourne’s International Film Festival.
So Marah, what drew you to the subject of base jumping?
My uncle was a base jumper and an aerial cinematographer. He died in a car accident… and left [behind] all this amazing footage that I found, and some of it was of Carl and Jean Boenish. I discovered their story and their love story, which had never been written… so I thought it was a great opportunity to make a film about it.
Why did you want to share this story with the world?
I loved the passion of the people who were involved in it, and I love that Carl Boenish was a filmmaker… that he was going out and making these really physical films. He was so invested in getting the image that he was actually throwing himself off cliffs, or buildings, to get that perspective… Physical filmmaking was very attractive to me.
What was it like working with Carl’s 16mm archive footage?
It was difficult and challenging in that it’s a physical format verses digital, where you actually have to make sure that you are not destroying the footage as you’re trying to clean it… You’re working with footage that’s almost 40 years old, you must be very careful. You know you’re archiving as you’re working with the footage, so there’s a whole other process involved in working with the footage than if you were just working with digital.
Does that extend the time frame you’re working in?
It did, and it’s also very expensive to get footage transferred… We had to work with magnetic tape (16mm), which actually decomposes very quickly, so you can smell it when you walk into the archive. It is very time-consuming, as well as really expensive, so some of the work we were doing in archiving was material for later use and to make sure that other people could see it.
What was the biggest obstacle you came across while filming the new footage?
Besides raising money which, of course, is always the largest challenge, [it] was probably the weather in Andalsnes (Norway). It rains and rains and rains, even in the summer time. So for the helicopter shots, for instance, we would get these weather reports which were always wrong. Every day we would be waiting for a weather window to get the shots and the things that we wanted.
Were there any mistakes or scary moments in the process of putting this film together?
I was making a lot of mistakes. I think it was all a learning process… I had to learn that I really wasn’t the person to shoot the film. I really needed a cinematographer, I needed a larger team that I could really bring on board. One thing I learned as a director is to trust the people around me. To give them a lot of leeway to have their own creative and tactical expression in the work I was doing.
Not many of us can relate to jumping off cliffs, so what do you hope audiences will take away from Sunshine Superman?
It’s interesting, I’ve never thought about it like that… Hopefully it’s an enjoyable experience. People can enjoy the world of base jumping and this kind of amazing love story between two people, [and] take away this inspirational thing where they don’t have to base jump, but they can be inspired in their own lives to go out and do whatever they are frightened to do. They can overcome fear, go beyond fear and overcome their own artificial limitations.
Sunshine Superman is now available on DVD, Digital and BlueRay