SXSW Review – ‘Fly’ is a Window into the Wondrous World of Flight

SXSW Review – ‘Fly’ is a Window into the Wondrous World of Flight
BASE jumpers jump from the 1000-meter Kjerag cliff in Lysebotn, Norway as part of the annual Heliboogie BASE jumping event. Heliboogie is organized by SKA Base and has been in existence since 1998. | Credit: Reel Peak Films

It’s hard to imagine the feeling of jumping off a cliff and just letting the wind carry you. Fly, from National Geographic Documentary Films, brings audiences as close as possible to no longer needing to imagine and just getting to experience it. In its opening moments, two people leap off a ledge and are indeed caught by the wind thanks to the colorful wingsuits that they are wearing. They soar along the rocky formations and look almost like birds gracefully moving from place to place without a care in the world. This is the art of BASE jumping.

For those unfamiliar with this alternatively enticing and terrifying sport, its practitioners use safety equipment, namely parachutes, to be able to launch themselves off and, essentially, fly. It’s a sport that, when some of its adherents first started, was outlawed and considered highly dangerous, and while the assessment of its risks has not changed, it’s now commonly-practiced and there are many people who indulge regularly. There’s even a tradition of the first person who makes a jump getting to name the place where they undertook that fateful, and hopefully successful, attempt.

Fly is a riveting and breathless look at an activity that most audiences will likely never have experienced for themselves. Using cameras affixed to the BASE jumpers’ helmets as they leap off the edge and begin to soar is marvelously effective, providing the most poignant and lasting perspective of what they do. It’s easy to become hypnotized by the beauty and the freedom that those floating through the air seem to feel as they glance down and all around them. It may not be enough to inspire people to try it for themselves because it’s still quite dangerous and requires considerable preparation, but it’s an astonishing sight to behold nonetheless. 

Where Fly adds a particular resonance is in its look at three couples who jump together. Jimmy and Marta are among the early devotees and regularly teach many others how to jump safely, and they gather each year on their anniversary for a huge party to celebrate with their peers and friends. Espen taught Amber wingsuit flying only to see Amber suffer a serious injury during one treacherous flight. Scotty finally found the perfect partner, Julia, who shares his love of jumping, and their plans to have a child beg the question, who’s going to watch the kid when both parents are jumping off cliffs together?

Fly doesn’t shy away from the difficult potential consequences of this sport. People are critically hurt and die, and the filmmakers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau approach this knowledge of mortality by asking several of their subjects what they would say if they were to die during the filming of this movie. One refuses to answer, not interested in willing that fate into the world, while another eagerly offers up the assurance that he’s lived a great life and he probably died doing exactly what he loved.

This film captures the energy that these couples share and the way in which they approach an activity that consumes so much of their lives. They acknowledge that they could probably be doing other things, like practicing law or living a more stable life, but this is what gives them life, and that’s very clear from the way in which they talk so passionately about what they do and why they keep doing it. Most audiences will watch in wonder and likely be grateful that they can have a peek into what this feels like without having to leave the comfort of their seats and jump off a cliff themselves. But where this film succeeds best is in capturing the magic of this sport, potentially encouraging those who would never have even considered it to ponder how it might actually feel.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

Fly makes its world premiere in the Documentary Spotlight section at the 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will be released by National Geographic Films.

Comment (0)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here