SIFF Double Feature – The Farthest and The Landing
The Farthest: I like space stuff: documentaries, space operas, games, whatever. I’m not entirely sure about the ethics of spending tons of money while people go hungry, but I am just so fascinated by the possibilities of our universe. Which makes Emer Reynolds’ new documentary, The Farthest, right up my alley. The film details the history of the Voyager space missions and adds in the perspective of those who launched the probes, as well as the folks whose job was to evaluate the data sent home. Launched in 1977 to take advantage of the rare alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, Voyager 1 and 2’s initial mission was to photograph the outer planets. Once that was completed, their task became to investigate interstellar space (Which Voyager 1 is currently doing with Voyager 2 on its heels.). On board each probe is a golden record containing music and messages from Earth, and once they can no longer communicate with us anymore, their job will be to simply take our messages further away from home on the infinitesimal chance that there will be someone out there positioned to receive it.
This is a lovely and fascinating film. I’m not normally a big fan of animation in documentaries, but what is shown here is a beautiful imagining of what the probes look like in space. I knew about the Voyager program, but there was a moment in the film where I was finally able to really understand it’s importance. Pictures of the planets through telescopes were presented, and it became very clear to me how little we knew about them until Voyager. I was nine when the probes were launched, and I guess I’ve always taken that information for granted. The only real criticism I have of the film is that I wish less time had been spent on the golden record and the possibility of life on other planets, and more spent on the creation of the probes. The film mentions how the golden record generally sparks more interest than the science, and that’s a shame. A lot of what we know about our solar system comes from Voyager, and while the human-interest part is cool, there is so much more to this project. This is a film geared towards a general interest viewer, but even space buffs will get something out of watching the folks who worked on the project talk about their experiences.
The Farthest plays May 19th at the Majestic Bay and May 20th and 24th at the SIFF Cinema Uptown.
Final Grade: A
The Landing: In 1973, the Apollo manned lunar landing program suffered a devastating tragedy when its final flight, Apollo 18, landed in the Takla Makan desert in China instead of the Pacific Ocean. The pilot, Bo Cunningham, managed to land the command module safely, but it would take 36 hours before rescue teams found the three men – the flight also included astronauts Ed Lovett and Al Borden. Unfortunately, Lovett and Borden came in contact with a neurotoxin and died before they could be saved. 25 years later, filmmakers David Dodson and Mark Dodson interview Bo Cunningham about the events of that fateful landing. Lauded as hero by some, others have cast him as a murderer, including the widows of the other astronauts, one of the FBI agents who investigated the event, and Cunningham’s former flight director. The Dodsons present a compelling case, but in the end, there is only circumstantial evidence, and the viewer must make up their own mind about Cunningham’s guilt or innocence.
So this is not the first Apollo 18 movie; you might have seen 2011’s Apollo 18 and be a little confused as to the completely different plot points. And that’s because there never was an 18th Apollo mission. 2011’s film was a not-very-good found footage horror film, while this is a pretty enjoyable faux documentary mystery. I enjoyed this much more than I expected. (Festival fare can be a mixed bag, and while hope springs eternal, you really never know what you are going to get.) Don Hannah plays Cunningham, and is totally believable as the somewhat hard-to-like loner. The film progresses through interviews, photographs, fake archival footage, and what I assume were supposed to be recreations. This is the first movie I’ve seen that could have been completely sunk on the basis of the quality of its special effects department’s Photoshop skills. This film makes the most of its budget, and the only real complaint I have was that I wish the motivation given for the possible murders had been stronger. As it is, I don’t buy this particular conspiracy theory. I watch a lot of Murder She Wrote and Columbo, and I’d like to think I know what I am talking about.
The Landing plays at The Kirkland Performance Center on June 4th and the SIFF Cinema Uptown June 9th and 11th.
Final Grade: B+