A couple kiss on a crane overlooking a city skyline.

Sundance Film Review: Skywalkers: A Love Story


Sundance Film Review: Skywalkers: A Love Story
Director: Jeff Zimbalist

XYZ Films, Library Films, All Rise Films
Premiere: 01.18

I have a severe phobia of heights, so attending the world premiere of Jeff Zimbalist‘s Skywalkers: A Love Story was a bold decision on my part. Fortunately, despite a lot of cold sweat and the occasional look away, I can definitively say I was treated to one of the most unique documentaries I’ve ever experienced.

Part-thriller, part-romance and part-heist film, Skywalkers performs a delicate balance of genres that pays-off with a climax that elicited two cheers and a standing ovation from its premiere audience. Has there ever been a heist documentary before? I wouldn’t be surprised if not, because they’re typically, you know, super illegal. Luckily, this heist-of-a-sort is just legal enough to be both documentable and also the most thrilling, life-or-death entry into the heist genre you’ve ever seen.

Skywalkers follows two of the world’s most famous—and, to certain governments, infamous—rooftoppers (aka skywalkers, hence the title) Vanya Beerkus and Angela Nikolau as they plan their riskiest climb yet. Zimbalist began the project in 2015 when Nikolau was just starting out as not only the first female rooftopper to make waves in the male-dominated social media craze, but also as the only one with a truly creative spirit; incorporating her gymnast background into photos and videos high above the horizon. A year into the project, however, Nikolau and Beerkus— the most famous rooftopper in the world at the time—began to collaborate. The angle had to shift. It wasn’t just about one woman standing alone above the rest (literally), it was about asking a question: What’s scarier; risking a fatal fall from a great height or falling in love?

In 2024, the notion that GoPro footage of these death-defying feats could still make ripples is miraculous. One would assume a decade or more of access to such footage on YouTube, the TikTok “For You Page” and any other Internet alleyways would risk the videos  (cut down from the crew’s 300 hour archive captured over the course of  seven years) feeling very been-there-done-that, but it does not. The tense narrative constructed by Beerkas and Nikolau’s footage, masterfully put together by editors Alannah Byrnes and Zimbalist, along with the sheer dizzying madness of what the rooftoppers are doing, is a revelation. As Beerkus states during the jaw-dropping climax, “They say there are no miracles, but here’s one.”

Skywalkers: A Love Story presents an oft misunderstood art form as everything it is, as well as what it can be. It doesn’t shy away from the danger of the stunts, as Nikolau is informed in a harrowing moment that almost the entirety of her old rooftopping crew has died in pursuit of higher heights. However, it also shows the effort, the commitment and the beauty of what these two artists are doing: finding balance, both in their art as well as in their relationship. –Max Bennion

Read more 2024 Sundance reviews here!