The world premiere of 'Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story' debuted at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival on Sunday
Attendees at the Sundance 2024 world premiere of Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story were frequently moved to tears while watching the documentary, an emotional journey that portrayed the on-and off-screen hero and his family’s unwavering support after a tragic equestrian accident left him paralyzed.
The overwhelming response to the film on Sunday was not just from witnessing the tragedy and sorrow, but from seeing how Reeve persevered, choosing to keep going when he was admittedly close to giving up. It was the unconditional love of his wife Dana Reeve, who vowed to stay by his side, that ultimately pushed him through. The actor would find a new focus, dedicating his life to inspiring others with life-altering spinal cord injuries.
Christopher's three children, Matthew, Alexandra and Will, attended the screening held at the Ray Theatre in Park City. In the film, they give candid, emotional interviews about their family’s life, once led by their heroic father and caregiver mother.
"This year, in October, will be the 20th anniversary of dad's passing," Matthew, 44, said during a Q+A after the screening on Sunday of why it felt like the right time to do the film. He said he and his siblings had been approached with "a few inquiries" over the years, but entrusting his family's story to this specific team, including filmmakers Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, just felt right.
"It all came together really organically," he said.
Through extensive personal footage from the Reeve family and audio clips of the late icon, viewers can feel like they are by Christopher’s side before, during and after his 1995 accident.
"We knew we wanted, if we were ever going to do this, it had to be the right time and the right team," Will, 31, echoed, "and that we were going to give over our archive, our home movies, sit for some raw and vulnerable interviews, and then place all of our trust and faith in the team that had assembled around us and see what they came back with."
"And the end result here is remarkable, so our trust has certainly been rewarded," he added, as the audience broke out in applause.
Before the life-changing accident, the film depicts the actor’s highly adventurous nature, always active and doing sports, even flying planes — twice solo across the Atlantic. To see the man who could seemingly never sit still suddenly be trapped in his own body is heartbreaking for viewers to see. But the uplifting moments of joy are equally powerful.
Christopher Reeve skyrocketed to fame after landing his first big role in Superman, the 1978 film about the DC superhero. Going from off-Broadway productions to mainstream success in a comic book film was a polarizing topic for some in his circle, namely, for his father, Franklin D'Olier Reeve.
Upon learning the news, Franklin called for a champagne celebration — until he found out that he misunderstood the project his son was cast in. He thought it was a theatre production. A role in Superman simply wasn’t scholarly enough for his academic father, and that plagued the actor for some time.
But Christopher put his heart and soul into playing Superman, determined to make the role art by weaving in his classical training, and coming off as authentically as possible. It worked. His fans, when meeting him in person, actually believed he was Superman, and he became an overnight Hollywood success.
Christopher's daughter Alexandra, 40, emphasized that "human connection" is what her dad "tried to bring to the role of Superman."
"It's what I hope people take away, is that there can be a glossy Hollywood but really the values and the heroes are the people who survive in these ordinary circumstances, and find strength, and find each other, and that's really what our family was taught from the very beginning," she said.
The inspirational documentary also takes viewers through two beautiful love stories, one of Christopher with his first partner Gae Exton, the mother of Matthew and Alexandra, and then Dana, Will's mom, whom he married in 1992 and was by his side until the end.
Another focus of the film is the endearing friendship between Christopher and Robin Williams, who died in 2014, and is featured throughout the documentary. The support of Robin and his wife Marsha — also depicted in precious never-seen-before footage — provides a touching element, and garnered some laughs from the audience while watching the two actors' congenial exchanges.
"I think one of the things that makes me so happy about this film is that they go beyond what you see as the public persona and really explore what it is to be a good human," Alexandra said. "Our circumstances were unique, but the values explored in this film are really universal."
Christopher died in 2004 from cardiac arrest at age 52, nine years after his accident.
The following year, Dana, a non-smoker, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and died seven months later at 44. Young Will, just 13 at the time, was tragically left without both of his parents. His recollection of the moment when he learned his mom had died is one of the more painful moments in the film.
When Christopher died, the Reeve family established a foundation in his name, and then added Dana's name to the organization.
Together, William, Alexandra and Matthew serve on the board of directors for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Dedicated to research for finding a cure for spinal cord injuries, it began with the advocacy work of their father.
A pivotal moment in Christopher's life after his accident came at the 1996 Oscars. After a curtain came up revealing him sitting center stage in his wheelchair, he received a minutes-long standing ovation. It was his first public appearance since his accident, and as Matthew Reeve told PEOPLE, it was "incredible" to see his father onstage that night at the Academy Awards.
“And what sticks with me most was after that incredible warm welcome and that very long ovation that he received, his introduction — he followed it up with a wonderful speech about how cinema and movies are at their best when they not only entertain, but they inform and educate and address issues," Matthew added.
He recalled that "they showed clips from a bunch of films," like "Coming Home, and Terms of Endearment and films that really address important human issues and made a call to action that Hollywood do more to do that."
“So that's always stuck with me," Matthew said. "And that's why also I feel like here, at Sundance, that's what they do and that's what they live for."
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Now 20 years after Christopher’s death, the film honoring his life, with his three children present, pulled a similar reaction from the audience, who rose to their feet with thunderous applause as the siblings stood, united, to continue to honor their dad, their hero, and everyone’s Superman.
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