sunshine_supermanMarah Strauch’s Sunshine Superman is a riveting 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. In the 1970s, Boenish brought revolutionary filmmaking techniques to his role as one of the founders of BASE (which stands for Bridge, Antenna, Span, and Earth) jumping, a movement that involves parachuting from a fixed structure, whether man-made or natural. In 1984, the Boenishes — Carl’s wife, Jean, was drawn to BASE jumping through his love for it — together broke the Guinness World Record on Norway’s “Troll Wall,” the tallest vertical rock in Europe. Sadly, within days, this remarkable triumph was followed by disaster. Sunshine Superman is told through a stunning mix of Carl’s 16mm archive footage, well-crafted re-enactments, and state-of-the-art aerial photography. The film left me breathless and inspired. I was delighted to sit down with the still inspiring Jean Boenish, the world’s first female BASE jumper, to  talk about the surprising lessons conveyed by the film.

Danny Miller: Well, this film did for me what the best of documentaries do — it radically changed my point of view. In this case, I went from thinking that BASE jumpers were crazy people with an adrenaline addiction and a death wish to being completely inspired by them and beginning to understand what motivates them.

Jean Boenish: Oh, that’s wonderful! I thought Marah did such a great job crafting  the film and presenting the topics with such honesty. I don’t think you would have had that reaction if it wasn’t so honest and real.

Did you know from the beginning that you and Carl were going to be the focal point of the film? I assume Marah first approached you because of all the great archival footage Carl had amassed over the years.

Yes, exactly. I think it evolved for her over time because originally we were talking about just doing a documentary history on BASE jumping. But then as she was looking at all the footage that Carl shot, she found our personal story very engaging.

Had you made any attempts over the years to compile Carl’s incredible footage into a feature-length documentary?

That was not something I was actively pursuing. The footage was just sitting there. I would entertain requests for stock footage — Carl and I had always done that if we approved of how it was going to be used — we didn’t want his footage used in anything negative or sensational. And he did put together a few short films for the BASE jumping and skydiving communities. Carl made four 15-minute “film poems” with music but no narration, and a longer film called Playground in the Sky in 1976 that was mostly about hang-gliding. That was a really wonderful film that Keno was going to to distribute theatrically but it just wasn’t the right time.

It would be cool to see those films on the DVD for this documentary when it comes out.

I would love that, actually! I think people would really enjoy Playground in the Sky as well as Carl’s “film poems.”

Jean, you seem to have a very different personality than Carl did. Were you at all reluctant to have your marriage be at the center of this film?

No, not at all. Carl was always very excited about every project that he was doing but I’m just as excited as he would have been about this film. I’m moved by what you said about how it touched and inspired you. I hope seeing Sunshine Superman gives people a kind of empowerment that they can apply to different aspects of their lives. That’s all BASE jumping is about — it’s one way for people to make those kinds of discoveries about themselves. It’s a concentrated and accelerated — literally accelerated! — method of learning and it’s certainly not for everyone, and you wouldn’t want it to be, but Carl and I always believed that it could inspire people in other areas. Carl knew that for some people bowling spoke to them, for example. I can’t bowl, Carl couldn’t bowl, neither of us could golf, so it’s not about what you can and can’t do. I hope everybody will get that when they see the film.


It’s hard for those of us not in the community to look at what you guys do and not obsess on the debilitating fear we know that we’d have. Is it that you guys don’t experience that fear, or maybe the fear is part of attracts people to BASE jumping?

Man’s quest for human flight has been around for a long, long time — there’s a whole mythology surrounding it. It’s different for every individual. Some people are very afraid before their first jump out of an airplane. I don’t know if I was an odd bird, but I really enjoyed it and I was never scared at all. But before I made my first jump I gathered all the information I needed and I had good people helping me. For me, it’s not so much about jumping out into the air, but more about jumping out of yourself and opening up your perspective of the unknown. Jumping is about discovering connections that you didn’t know existed — possibly like being born into this realm. If we had a choice we might go, “Wait, wait, wait, I don’t want to be born, it’s all unknown!” (Laughs.) For me, jumping is about releasing all of the artificial inhibitions that we’ve attached to ourselves and the things that people have told us that we should be afraid of.

That’s what I found so inspiring. Forget about jumping off a real cliff, so many of us live with so much fear just in our regular daily lives!

What you see in the film is us doing the best that we can to not only demonstrate something that we’ve enjoyed discovering, something that has enlightened us and helped us get the most out of our lives, but also to communicate that feeling and to help people around the world discover whatever they feel is right for them to do that will enhance them achieving their purpose in life and expressing their talents.

Even if society is there telling them that what they want to do is dangerous or wrong or stupid.

Exactly! It’s about sloughing off false fears. First you have to identify them. I think Maura’s film is so gentle at not hammering at people but letting them blossom in their own realizations and thoughts about the things being presented. I think the film allows people to work through their own thoughts about fear and oppression and enslavement and pierce through all those artificial limitations.

We create so many needless boundaries in our lives.

It’s conditioning. We don’t have to!

Despite my newfound understanding of why people like you and Carl do what you do, I have to admit that there was one moment in the film — when he was positioning himself on that tiny jerry-rigged bicycle seat off of that mountain cliff to get the best shot — where I wanted to scream, “Jesus, Carl, what the hell are you doing? Are you insane?” As his wife, did words like that ever come out of your mouth?

(Laughs.) No, those words never came out of my mouth! We were partners who shared similar engagement in discovery and a mutual joy about discovery — intelligent discovery, something that’s approached in an educated way. You need to work out the science of it, that’s a necessary step, but once you have the science and technique established, a lot of  BASE jumping is about learning to trust your intuition, learning about the messages and communications that are coming to you and how to sift through them — separating the wheat from the chaff as Carl would say!

So there might have been moments with you and Carl where you’d get a feeling and say, “Okay, we’re not gong to attempt that today.” Times when your intuition told you “No!”

Yes, abolutely! It’s very important to know when to say “No.” As spouses, you use each other as sounding board. Nobody knows more about you — all the nuts and bolts and warts and everything — than a spouse. But it’s not about focusing on the weaknesses or what the other person doesn’t know, it’s about throwing them a rope from what you know to help pull them up.


Honestly, I can’t think of two people more suited for each other than you and Carl were even though you are so different in many ways. Apart from everything else, the film is such a great model of a truly effective relationship!

We were two individuals who grew together. When we were married we were willing to have that part of us that overlapped become part of each other. It was a wonderful sharing and it was something that everybody can have because it’s just based on caring about each other and wanting to help each other and whatever is right for that other person. It’s never about what we want them to be.

Ding! Ding! Ding! That right there is the KEY to any successful relationship! 

It’s a big thing. Every person has to determine his or her own life completely and fully and hopefully you have partners and relationships that are assisting you in that.

It’s such a shame that Carl isn’t here to see this film and to take advantage of all the new technologies he would love such as Go-Pro cameras, the new winged suits, and so on.

But he IS here, you felt him! That’s a big part of the film, too, realizing that his presence is not lost because if you hold on to the love and meaning, that IS the presence, and it lives on and on. It’s all about caring and sharing and applying the feelings you get from watching this film to something in your life that has meaning for you.

Sunshine Superman opens today in select cities. On Friday, May 22, Jean Boenish and director Marah Strauch will appear for a Q&A after the 7:20 pm show at the Landmark Theaters in Los Angeles (and to intro the 10:00pm screening). They will do the same on Saturday, May 23, and will appear following the 2:40 pm show on Sunday, May 24.