Home » Film Festivals » ‘Skywalkers: A Love Story’ review: Dir. Jeff Zimbalist [Sundance]

‘Skywalkers: A Love Story’ review: Dir. Jeff Zimbalist [Sundance]

by Paul Heath

If Scott Mann’s 2022 ball-tingler Fall gave you a sense of vertigo then we advise you to stay clear of this new documentary feature from director Jeff Zimbalist and co-director Maria Bukhonina, a Sundance debuting white knuckle love story about a couple of Russian climbers who fall for one another atop some of the world’s tallest buildings.

A still from Skywalkers: A Love Story by Jeff Zimbalist, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Skywalkers: A Love Story starts with a trigger warning. Actually, two. Firstly about the content – “This film contains scenes that may cause discomfort for those sensitive to exposure at heights“; horrifyingly scary footage of groups of youngsters showing no fear in illegally scaling skyscrapers, and another to urge viewers not to copy.

And rightly so. The story revolves around two daredevils, Ivan Beerkus and Angela Nikolau who individually have managed to get themselves a following on social media for scaling really tall buildings and posting the footage online. Ivan was first, his Instagram following gaining him hundreds of thousands of followers and likes bagging him sponsors and the ability to travel to the likes of Paris, China and Hong Kong to carry out his collosal feats.

I literally had sweat dripping from between my toes.

There’s also Angela whose approach is slightly different with a more artistic, acrobatic approach. She’s managing to scale similar heights and, after her socials rocket sky high, she catches the attention of Ivan who invites her on a trip to do a dual climb. The two get on massively and they develop a relationship, travelling the world together climbing every tall building that takes their fancy. Years go by and the two aim for the greatest-ever climb; to scale the last super-skyscraper, a 2,200 ft-plus building in Malaysia.

Zimbalist’s film starts with them seemingly caught in the bowels of the building, their mission seemingly doomed, and then tracks back from the start of their relationship and their journey to falling for one another.

The cinematography is stunning; from drone shots thousands of feet above the ground to beautiful photography captured by the climbers themselves. Skywalkers: A Love Story is a gripping, often traumatic but utterly compelling piece of filmmaking that is aimed at audiences who enjoy similar subject matter. A thrill ride like no other that fits perfectly in a sub-genre of documentaries that the likes The Dawn Wall, The Alpinist and Free Solo belong to, but with a much broader appeal.

It has an involving narrative running through it and the stakes are always high for the young couple at the heart of the story, for them romantically and for the dangerous and highly illegal situations in which they put themselves.

Not for the faint-hearted at all, but Skywalkers: A Love Story screams to be seen on the biggest screen possible. An absolute thrill ride of a documentary that every viewer panting to catch their breath come the closing credits. I literally had sweat dripping between my toes.

Skywalkers: A Love Story was reviewed at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

Skywalkers: A Love Story

Paul Heath

Film

Summary

A thrill ride of a documentary and a beautiful love story that will have you panting for breath come the closing credits.

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