Academy Award®-nominated director Joshua Seftel collaborated with Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian on the feature length documentary film, "The Steepest Climb: How Delta Air Lines Navigated the Global Pandemic," which premiered in June on Delta flights worldwide. The emotionally resonant feature, produced by Brooklyn-based Smartypants Pictures, quickly became a much-watched movie on summer 2023 flights. Demonstrating unique vulnerability for a brand, Delta relied on their long-standing relationship with Smartypants and Seftel to candidly tell the compelling story of the heroes within all branches of the 90,000-strong company who helped the airlines navigate the many challenges of the pandemic. Shown on Delta’s over 4,000 daily flights, the film has garnered thousands of viewers and positive feedback from passengers.

Click HERE to view the trailer.

“Being embedded with Delta for three years in order to tell this story became very meaningful – both the film subjects and our crew filming them frequently experienced tears,” says Smartypants Director/Founder Josh Seftel. “No one had a roadmap for the pandemic. We found so many heroes in Delta’s ranks, and their stories were inspirational as glimpses into what we are all capable of when we come together in extremely challenging times.” 

Smartpants’ production team had exclusive access to the company from 2020 to 2022, capturing a candid and emotional glimpse into how one of the world's largest international airlines survived the multitude of challenges presented by the global pandemic. From CEO Ed Bastian experiencing moments of doubt and fear facing an unimaginable crisis, to frontline employees losing loved ones and colleagues to the pandemic, The Steepest Climb documents the tragedies, sacrifices, and triumphs of Delta leadership and employees while weathering this storm. Nominated for an 2023 Academy Award® for his short "Stranger At The Gate", which premiered on The New Yorker, Seftel has collaborated with Bastian on numerous previous projects, fostering the high level of trust needed for the film, which started out as a celebration of Delta’s near 100-year history and then sharply pivoted to capture the company’s pandemic journey in sometimes-raw real time. 

Joshua Seftel is best known for directing the Emmy®-winning landmark series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the feature film War, Inc. starring John Cusack, Marisa Tomei and Ben Kingsley, and his regular appearances on CBS Sunday Morning where he interviews his 86-year-old mother. Joshua's 2023 Academy Award®-nominated short documentary Stranger at the Gate, Executive Produced by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, is the latest film in Seftel’s Emmy® and Peabody-nominated Secret Life of Muslims project (SXSW), which combats Islamophobia with filmmaking. Seftel, who experienced antisemitism as a child, has been committed to working on this subject matter for the past seven years. His other award-winning films include Taking on the Kennedys (POV), Ennis’ Gift (HBO), The Home Team (SXSW) and The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano (NYT Op-Docs, Tribeca). He is also a contributor to the Peabody Award-winning podcast This American Life and The New York Times.

About Smartypants
Academy Award®-nominated Smartypants is a curated team of filmmakers whose superpower is evoking human emotion. 

Whether creating an acclaimed documentary or telling stories for the world’s top brands and agencies, their emotionally-driven approach tugs on heartstrings and changes minds, one pant leg at a time.