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Originally published Friday, January 2, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"20 Seconds of Joy" goes to the edge with base jumper

"20 Seconds of Joy" is Jens Hoffmann's hourlong documentary about the Norwegian athlete, Karina Hollekim, who travels the world to jump off cliffs with her parachute.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

"20 Seconds of Joy," a documentary with Karina Hollekim, Jeb Corliss. Directed and photographed by Jens Hoffmann, from a screenplay by Hoffmann and Matthias Thonnissen. 60 minutes. Not rated; contains brief profanity. In English and German, with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum.

Traveling the world to jump from great heights with her parachute, Norwegian athlete Karina Hollekim admits that she spends most of her life flirting with death, "and that's not normal."

At the same time, she concedes, "If I don't do it, I'm not a happy person, I'm not a complete person." A vertigo-inducing new documentary, "20 Seconds of Joy," explores her addiction and the adjustments necessary to maintain it.

She's managed to compartmentalize her life to such a degree that her friends barely know about her trips to Switzerland, Italy, Germany and West Africa to defy gravity. While one friend believes she's taken an "intellectual" approach to the sport, Hollekim simply echoes the movie's title: It's all about that brief, joyous-scary moment when anything can happen.

Her Cassandra-like traveling-diving companion, Jeb Corliss, sees another side of her entirely. All but predicting that she will eventually have a disastrous experience, he spends most of one year accompanying her while somehow managing to earn a living by making jumps.

Her parents disapprove in their very different ways. Her father, once estranged from his only daughter, seems to have made peace with her. Her mother, who was brain-damaged during a car accident, emerged from a coma with few memories of her child. But it's clear that she senses danger in what Hollekim has chosen to do with her life, and no wonder.

The images of Hollekim and Corliss (and others) jumping off cliffs and gliding above fjords and fields are as beautiful as they are frightening.

Reminiscent of the brilliantly edited diving sequence in Leni Riefenstahl's 1936 Olympic Games documentary, "Olympia," the movie sometimes suggests that gravity has been forgotten and human beings really can fly with the greatest of ease.

The African sequence is especially memorable, partly because of the mistakes Hollekim feels she made during one crucial jump. In some cases, there's a medical crew standing by to — quite literally, in one case — pick up the pieces.

Directed by Jens Hoffmann, who also did the spectacular cinematography, "20 Seconds of Joy" doesn't dig very deep when confronting the selfishness that can't help but anchor this particular sport. It's essentially a series of vicarious thrills, packaged slickly and rarely overstaying its welcome.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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