This initial report on Skywalkers: A Love Story comes from our team following the premieres at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. We’ll update this piece when there’s more information about the movie’s release.
This documentary follows two people who “rooftop” as a hobby — that is, they illegally climb to the tops of really tall buildings and structures. After falling in love, they decide to attempt to scale the second-tallest building in the world.
Have you ever walked around and seen a rocky chimney or some scaffolding and thought, I could just climb that? This is a documentary about the people who follow up on that thought, letting it take them to higher and higher rooftops until they’re scaling arenas, office buildings, skyscrapers, and more.
Angela Nikolau and Ivan Beerkus are rooftoppers who got into the scene in different ways. (Her: being raised by circus performers. Him: a desire to get higher than anyone else.) They both start to make a decent living through rooftopping (sponsors, baby!), eventually working together and starting a relationship. Skywalkers tracks the highs and lows of their relationship — all before they attempt their most dangerous and difficult climb yet, of the world’s second-tallest building: Kuala Lumpur’s Merdeka 118.
What’s Skywalkers: A Love Story trying to do?
This documentary is most dominantly trying to do exactly what it sounds like, at least after you push through the Star Wars jokes. It’s telling a love story, and a fairly traditional one at that, even if it is full of scenes and views fit to make your stomach clench. More than in most documentaries, the rooftopping pair come to feel like they’re playing out a classic rom-com storyline about two professionals in love, just with scenes on the tippy-top of a tall building instead of its observation deck. Ivan becomes more cautious as the relationship goes on, more conscientious of just how much there is to lose on any of their climbs. Angela wants to feel freer and less encumbered, and to keep hitting new highs.
Does Skywalkers live up to its premise?
It does, successfully managing to give viewers all sorts of fluttery feelings: the gushy kind and the acrophobia kind. This isn’t exactly a love story for the ages; at times, the answers to Angela’s and Ivan’s problems feel so clear that the audience might want to grab them by the shoulders and tell them how simple things could be if they would just communicate a little better. But that all suggests how effectively Skywalkers works at presenting these characters in a clear-eyed, open way, with full credit to both Angela and Ivan, and co-directors Jeff Zimbalist and Maria Bukhonina.
The quote that says it all
A thought iterated throughout the movie, but most clearly said in the post-screening Q&A at Sundance: Zimbalist said that the thought when making this film was always that it was not about “a fear of falling from a great height; it’s about a fear of falling in love.”
Most memeable moment
True to form, Skywalkers has plenty of high-altitude shots designed to make your insides squirm. But perhaps the funniest is when the pair is attempting to climb a structure and Angela encourages Vanya to force a door open. “Do you want me to break it on camera?” he asks glibly, as if they are not already engaged in an illegal activity that’s openly being filmed.
Is Skywalkers good?
A lot about Skywalkers feels legitimately thrilling, even beyond the heights. Docs like this can get a lot out of simply being in the right place at the right time, following the exact person you want showing you the world. Skywalkers gets that in a few ways from its central duo, and the sheer amount of footage of them makes for an impressive visual library to draw from.
It is hard to shake the constant reminder that these people are influencers — they know how to craft a narrative, and more importantly, they know how to tell a story that is merely informed by the truth. They film themselves for a living. They craft their own image, from their viewfinder to the viewer’s Instagram feed. That provides this story with its fuel — those images! And going back so long! I mean! But it also creates a slight pall over how well narrativized the whole thing is. The whole project could very possibly be a bit of bullshit, gussied up with some savvy media manipulation.
And yet still, dear reader, I fell! It helps a lot that the filmmakers have footage of the couple and their climbs going back to 2015. That sense of scale does a lot to put their growth, both personally and professionally, on full display. When the couple gets into a fight at the top of a skyscraper spire, it’s hard not to feel like airing your dirty laundry that high up earns a bit more dizziness from the audience.
When can we see it?
Netflix acquired Skywalkers: A Love Story out of Sundance, though it has no release date yet.