Programs Mon 5.25.2015

Doc Lab Success Story: How Sunshine Superman Made It Into Theaters

Last fall, we caught up with Film Independent Fellow Marah Strauch (Documentary Lab 2011, Fast Track 2010) about her debut feature doc, Sunshine Superman, right before it premiered on opening night of the Toronto International Film Festival. Since then, the film has been picked up for North American distribution by Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films for theatrical/VOD and television releases, respectively. It hit theatres in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, and we checked in with Strauch again to ask her about Sunshine Superman’s journey from Toronto to theaters.

“It’s been amazing, the response to the film,” Strauch enthused. The reviews of the doc, which is about celebrated BASE jumper Carl Boenish and his wife Jean, have been primarily very positive, but “we’re actually most excited about how people who are seeing the film are responding,” Strauch said.

After a great critical response and sold-out opening night screening at Toronto, the film’s sales agent and executive producer, Josh Braun, guided Strauch through the festival distribution market. “We were really fortunate to have somebody on board who really understood the landscape,” Strauch said, “We could not have done this process without [Braun].” Especially amid the chaotic festival environment, she said, “[filmmakers] really need somebody whose only job is to work on selling the film, and to work on dealing with distribution.”

When we spoke to Strauch last September, Universal had already picked up the film’s international rights, but the North American deal was finalized at Toronto. It can be hard to know what exactly makes one distributor the right place for your film, but this was “an easy choice,” Strauch said. It was clear to her and her team, after speaking with the distributors, that Magnolia and CNN understood the film, which was key. “I like their taste,” she said. “The films that I watch in my own life are often put out by Magnolia…and it’s really important that [a distributor’s] curatorial taste kind of matches [a filmmaker’s] own aesthetic.” CNN, too, was a no-brainer for Strauch: “they have a ton of eyeballs that are going to watch CNN,” she said. “I think we really couldn’t have gotten a better set of partners.”

From here, Strauch said, “We’re hoping that a lot of people will go and see it on the big screen, because it was made to be on the big screen.” BASE jumping is the extreme sport of jumping off of fixed platforms (“BASE” is an acronym of building, antenna, span, earth—the four different kind of structures off of which people can jump) and Sunshine Superman is full of exhilarating aerial footage that demands to be viewed on the big screen.

Perhaps because of its narrative thread of Carl and Jean Boenish’s love story set against the breathtaking backdrop of BASE jumping, Strauch said that, oddly enough, “we haven’t really had that many people acknowledging it as a documentary—but it is a documentary.” She laughed, “It’s a very interesting thing. Maybe that’s fine.”

As Strauch told us back in September, the film had a long, eight-year journey coming together. But she insists that she never doubted it could get to this point: “I’ve always had a lot of belief in this film, and I’ve always had a lot of belief that we can show in a theatrical space,” she said. “I think people maybe thought it was a bit delusional… but I really believed that it could, and I think that the way to make things happen is to continue believing. I believe that’s one of the tricks of actually making films—believing that things are going to be successful, regardless of when people tell you that they’re not.”

Mary Sollosi / Film Independent Blogger