'Angry Sky': Tribeca Review

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
A lively account of a landmark in amateur thrillseeking

It was a stunt so crazy even the Jackass dudes wouldn't try it

Three years ago, YouTube went crazy with footage of parachuter Felix Baumgartner leaping out of a capsule at the edge of space and falling safely to earth. Baumgartner's trip set a world record for high-altitude balloon flight that was broken later that same month, but for over four decades that honor belonged to Nick Piantanida, a daredevil from New Jersey who died while trying to set a record for extreme parachuting. Jackass director Jeff Tremaine tells that story in Angry Sky, setting aside his usual prankster mode in favor of a straightforward approach that serves his subject well. The doc will be a fine addition to ESPN's 30 For 30 series this June, where one hopes it won't inspire others to do things the way Piantanida did.

A non-joiner from the start, Piantanida might have been a star athlete had he been a team player. Instead the handsome, flat-topped man pursued individual glory, making an ill-fated attempt to climb Venezuela's Angel Falls and spending some time hawking cobras and the like in an exotic animal-wholesale business.

When he discovered parachuting and the adrenaline accompanying it, Piantanida soon decided he wanted to jump from higher up than even pilot Joseph Kittinger, who had the full backing of the US Air Force. He was a stubborn and charismatic man, though, who believed "people only have about eleven good 'no's in them" and was willing to ask twelve times when he needed help. After convincing manufacturers to loan him a pressure suit and a suitable balloon, he started his "Strato" jump missions with an aim to jump from 23 miles above the ground.

Gathering interviews with Piantanida's wife, the volunteers and advisors who watched his three attempts, and authors who wrote about them, Tremaine offers a straightforward but enjoyable account of how each of them failed — once due to an act of god and twice, it seems, thanks to an over-eager lack of preparation. Reenactment footage helps us imagine what it's like to sit in a "Styrofoam portapotty" dangling that far up, only to be unable to jump because an oxygen hose won't disconnect; but Piantanida did plenty of documentation himself, and his personality comes through in copious photos and home movies.


Production companies: Gorilla Flicks, ESPN Films

Director: Jeff Tremaine

Producers: Priya Swaminathan, Katie Doering, Craig Ryan, Deirdre Fenton

Executive producers: John Dahl, Mat Hoffman, Bill Simmons, Connor Schell

Director of photography: Lance Bangs

Editor: Seth Casriel

Music: Brendan Canty


No rating, 78 minutes