‘Super/Man’ documentary highlights touching, intimate life of Christopher Reeve and his family

Jan 24, 2024, 9:30 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2024, 12:14 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — There are some unforgettable moments in the documentary “Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story.”

The film is part of the premieres in the 2024 edition of Utah-hosted Sundance Film Festival. It was given the high-profile, invite-only screening and reception, kicking off the Salt Lake portion of the internationally renowned fest at the Rose Wagner Theater. While Park City gets most of the media spotlight, Salt Lake is also key for the festival that has simply outgrown a tiny mountain ski town.

The documentary event showcased the city and just by its title, reaches past the hype of 91 film-projects and grabs the average Utah citizen who may not have often encountered independent film. It also offers a welcoming evening to Utah politicians and key community leaders to celebrate 100 years of film in Utah.

This film is heroic, tragic, inspirational and human.

Reeve was a trailblazer, who as a young, unknown actor took on the mantle of the red cape and boots and held his own in 1978’s “Superman” with legendary actors Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman. In many ways, that film ushered in the raging trend of superheroes at the cinema. He, as the original movie tagline said, made you believe a man can fly.

Reeve, and his career, did soar. Then, in what seems an unbelievable instant, the man behind The Man of Steel, was thrown from a horse and was grounded for the rest of his life. The documentary, which prominently features his three children, tells the story of his life not as two halves, or a before and after, but as the whole story of a life.

“It’s a pretty unbelievable thing, to take such a private and personal story and go out and share it with the world, so I am fascinated to see what the audience has to say,” daughter Alexandra Reeve said before the film at a Sundance red carpet. “To us it was beautiful. We saw family history come alive, we unearthed home movies from when we were kids and saw those put together by masters.”

One moment in the documentary features son William Reeve stating that had his father landed an inch to the right, he would have instantly died; An inch to his left and he would have stood up embarrassed at having been thrown from his horse. William Reeve is probably the most familiar to the public now, working on “Good Morning America.”

Another of those impactful film moments is when, with much more context than a YouTube clip can provide, Reeve wheeled onto the stage during the 1996 Academy Awards to a heartfelt standing ovation from Hollywood’s brightest talents. It was only months after the May 1995 incident that very nearly took his life.

Reeve who loved acting, not just the comic book character he is still so powerfully identified with, would certainly have preferred the applause for creating art rather than surviving.

But the film — just as his children told KSL TV they wanted — didn’t divide Reeve’s life into two halves, before and after. It was about the man, his triumphs and tragedies and, perhaps most importantly, his family. That includes his wife Dana who was revealed to be a hero as well and who was taken by cancer not long after her husband’s death. Notably, her name is alongside Christopher’s on the foundation they created, dedicated to improving the lives of those paralyzed and finding a cure for spinal cord injuries.

Those left to tell the story are the actor’s three children to add their own voices to the film, which was directed by Peter Ettedgui and Ian Bonhote. They are joined by some of Reeve’s close actor friends including Jeff Daniels, Whoopi Goldberg and Susan Sarandon. It poignantly highlights Robin Williams’ close relationship with his best friend Christopher.

Another of those indelible moments in the documentary lands on the audience when Glen Close states that if Christopher Reeve were still alive, Williams would be too.

The directors are the creative team behind the 2020 film “Rising Pheonix” which chronicles the growth of the Paralympic Games to its current standing as the world’s third largest sporting event. The directors understood the complicated world of disabilities.

“Dad’s story is unique that we wanted this film to be unique and not just a standard bio doc,” Matthew Reeve told KSL TV. “I think they (the directors) have succeeded beyond any expectations we had.”

To see the film at Sundance, audiences will either already have a ticket or will face waitlist lines at its three remaining festival screenings. All are sold out. It seems likely to find an audience in theaters or on streaming platforms.

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‘Super/Man’ documentary highlights touching, intimate life of Christopher Reeve and his family