I’m tempted to say that “Chasing Niagara” is a film about corporate-sponsored suicide framed as an entertaining showcase of taking calculated risks. Then my mind tosses and turns across the accepted proliferation of documentaries about ever more extreme pursuits of skiing, climbing, mountaineering, and on and on, including less mainstream realms of adventure.
Kayaking maybe isn’t too dangerous an envelope to push, until the thrill of running rapids escalates to paddling over waterfalls. Kayaking waterfalls might not be nuts by definition, until the thrill goes from 6 feet high to 60 feet high, until breaking records stretches above 160 feet.
Yes, “Chasing Niagara” documents a quest to kayak over Niagara Falls. Thousands of kayak-less people have jumped Niagara Falls with suicide as their intention. Most, though far from all, of the mere thrill seekers die as well.
The story unfolds as a personable band of cohorts engages in increasingly risk-tweaked preparations across an international range of river challenges. Liking these guys is part of this film experience, likewise the fluid architecture of beautiful locales.
It is, however, the palpable tension that pressurizes this film experience, deepened by the prospect that Rafa Ortiz may die in an illegal gambit at one of the most frequently visited places in the world. He may die with friends helping and cameras rolling.
Everyone who watches NASCAR or base-jumping or free solo climbing should see “Chasing Niagara.” For people who watch roller skating, skipping rope, or playground antics, well, that’s a different conversation.