Documentary ‘Spaceship Earth’ reappraises an ambitious project in a new light
“Spaceship Earth,” an entry in Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition, is set to screen at the following times and locations:
Sunday, Jan. 26, 5:30 p.m., The MARC Theatre
Tuesday, Jan. 28, 12:15 p.m., The Ray Theatre
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 3 p.m., Park Avenue Theatre
Thursday, Jan. 30, 9 p.m., Salt Lake City Library Theatre
Friday, Jan. 31, 6 p.m., Redstone Cinema 7
Documentary filmmaker Matt Wolf was in search of a new project when he stumbled upon a striking image. Eight people, wearing identical reddish-orange jumpsuits, standing within a glass pyramid.
“I assumed it was a still from a science fiction movie,” he said.
As he delved further, though, he found it was a real structure, a real experiment: Biosphere 2, an attempt in the late 1980s to recreate Earth’s biomes in a hermetically sealed, self-sustaining structure. Those eight people were ‘Biospherians,’ the men and women who would live inside for two years, collecting data and learning all they could about living in greater harmony with one’s ecosystem.
“Once I realized that, and that it’s participants are still alive, I was determined to tell their story,” Wolf said. “I had no idea how epic and unexpected their journey had been.”
Wolf will debut his film, “Spaceship Earth,” on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at the MARC Theatre during the Sundance Film Festival. The film uses archival footage and new interviews with the participants to not only cover the Biosphere 2 project itself but also the decades of work leading up to it.
“I was struck by the ambition of these people to literally reimagine the world, particularly in the context of catastrophic climate change today,” he said. “But it’s also a human story of the possibilities and limitations of that ambition.”
Wolf said he was compelled to reexamine Biosphere 2 in part because of its reception at the time.
“The project was in many ways rebuked by the media. From my point of view, it was sort of flattened in its depiction,” he said.
For that reason, Wolf said, he wanted to look at Biosphere 2 with the benefit of hindsight, both his as a researcher and that of the participants’ themselves. It took some effort, he said, to convince the Biospherians to speak with him.
“I think because of the reception at the time, there was some concern among those who were a part of it whether we were going to tell a more nuanced, complex version of their story. So I had to really do my homework to convince them this was a worthwhile project,” he said.
Wolf said he was excited to find that not only were they willing to talk, they had also carefully documented their own experiences, which provided him with a wealth of material to sift through.
Wolf said he is eager to share “Spaceship Earth,” a story about an ambitious project as relevant today as it ever was.
“This conversation is incredibly relevant to the political and ecological crises of the current moment,” he said. “But also, the idea that small groups can be engines of change is just really powerful.”
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Julian Doan’s short film “Raspberry” will begin its on-demand, virtual Sundance Filim Festival run on Jan. 28.