Capital Irish Film Festival: Editor, Tony Cranstoun

John Collins spoke to Tony Cranstoun, editor of A Date for Mad Mary and The Farthest, which closed this year’s Capital Irish Film Festival in Washington D.C. John was good enough to send us on his recording of their conversation.

The Farthest chronicles NASA’s 1977 launch of twin space probes, sent to capture images of remote planets and bear messages from Earth.
 

The Farthest screened on 4th March 2018 as part of the Capital Irish Film Festival

 

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InConversation: Tony Cranstoun

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Guth Gafa Review: ‘The Farthest’

Maria Flood enters a world of wonder in Emer Reynold’s The Farthest, which screened at the Guth Gafa International Documentary Film Festival.

Irish filmmaker Emer Reynold’s second feature-length film, The Farthest tracks the genesis of the space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, launched by NASA in 1977. The mission of these satellites was to document Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune through photography and videography, and relay images back to earth for analysis. The satellites were programmed to continue their journey through the solar system, before finally exiting our galaxy and moving into the deep, dark regions of outer space. Both satellites continue their respective journeys through the ebony vastness of space: Voyager 1 exited our solar system on August 25, 2012while Voyager 2 continues to move towards its outer boundary.

The film plunges us into a world of wonder, and the tale Reynolds tells is one that touches on infinity, eternity, and the beauty of human aspiration. Indeed, it is surprising that the stories of the physicists, cosmologists, geologists and engineers who created and programmed the Voyager satellites have not been told on the big screen before. Reynolds constructs the documentary around a series of interviews with high-profile members of the NASA teams, and these interviews are interwoven with stunning, previously unseen and re-digitized images from the Voyager journey. Added to the breathtaking quality of the images (and this film should be seen in the glorious, grand screen darkness of the cinema) is an exquisitely curated soundtrack, which includes Pink Floyd, Rose Royce, Chuck Berry, Bach, and Mozart.

The film is packed with startling images of the planets: the rich, humming ochre and orange whorls of Jupiter, the buzzing ice-cool crystals of Saturn’s rings, the delicate clouds of Neptune and the violent eruptions of its moon, Triton, the ‘disappointing’ blue and hazy uniformity of Uranus (‘poor Uranus’, one cosmologist notes). The experts interviewed also have a wonderful ability to transform potentially perplexing and highly complex facts and figures into wonderfully memorable, bite size chunks. They speak of lightning strikes on Jupiter that could go halfway across America, and of Uranus’ moon Miranda where there are cliffs so steep and high, if you were to fall you could finish your daily newspaper on the way down — that is, if you weren’t too busy focusing your rapidly impending death. One of the engineers describes the technology of Voyager as comparable to the devices we have in our pockets today, removing not his mobile phone – but his automatic car keys,.

The film takes the viewer on a journey, not only to the outer reaches of the Milky Way, but also back in space and time to a moment in the 1970s when communication with alien species became a credible, and sought-after, prospect. Most of the scientists agree that alien, non-human intelligent life somewhere in the universe is not only a possibility, but rather a probability. But finding it is the problem: we are looking for ‘needles in infinite haystacks’. The principal barrier is not space, but time. In the history of humanity, one scientist notes, there have only been 100 or so years when the human species had potentially evolved the technological capacity to intercept signals from other beings in outer space. More than this, the vast distances that such signals have to travel through the universe mean that by the time they reach earth, or by the time our communications reach other intelligent life, a civilization or species that would have been capable of interpreting or receiving them may have evolved, peaked, and been lost or obliterated.

The Voyager mission also included a medium that was designed to communicate with interstellar beings, an enterprise which evoked as much debate in philosophical circles as it did among the scientific community. Carl Sagan was a key figure in this respect, and he was responsible for the creation of the ‘Golden Record’, what Sagan described as a kind of ‘message in a bottle’. Modeled on a vinyl record but made of solid gold, the recordings therein contain 90 minutes of music, 12 minutes of earthly soundscapes, 115 images, and even brainwave recordings of a person thinking about Earth, the history of ideas and human social organization, and what it’s like to fall in love. The musical portion of the record aimed to capture the ‘sounds of the earth’, with music culled from a vast number of cultural contexts, from Chuck Berry’s ‘Jonny B Goode’ (The Beatles refused an offer to be included), to Japanese shakuhachi music and African percussion.

The record also contained a vast array of messages in 55 global languages, what Janet Sternberg describes as ‘proto tweets’ — short, concise greetings from humans to potential alien listeners. Nick Sagan, son of Carl, had his voice recorded and describes the feeling of knowing that his greeting ‘from the children of Earth’, is hurtling around in space somewhere: ‘some piece of me is a traveller on that ship and will keep going’.

The sense of wonder conveyed by the NASA scientists, many of them in their sixties and seventies, is infectious. As one of them notes, the whole Voyager mission was born out of an innate and intrinsically human capacity for curiosity: ‘it is a human thing, and a childlike thing, to ask questions’. The number of female researchers who worked on the mission and who Reynolds has interviewed is also striking, and reminds us of the egalitarian ideals of the community of scientists in question.

Though rudimentary by present day standards, given the current state of the global climate, overburdened resources, and ecosystem destruction, it is not improbable that one day the Voyager probes may become, in the words of one scientist, ‘the only evidence that we ever existed’. Indeed, it seems a not uncommon belief amongst this group that ‘continued human existence will depend on our ability to live on other planets’.

Yet in spite of such potentially gloomy prognoses, I was struck by the way the film evokes a moment of powerful optimism, when the flower-fueled idealism of the 1960s transmuted into scientific and philosophical inquiry. When Voyager had completed its fact-finding missions around the planets of our solar system, against the wishes of senior NASA administrators, Carl Sagan arranged for the camera of Voyager 1 to be turned towards Earth, in ‘the world’s first selfie’. What they depicted disappointed many: Earth was nowhere to be seen. Eventually, one member of the team spotted a tiny blue dot in a hazy, rainbow ray from the sun. In a deeply humbling manner, our planet was visible only as a tiny speck in the infinite vastness of space.

It is not only the striking images that dazzle in this film, or the feats of intellectual inquiry. It is also the film’s evocation of the relentless thirst for knowledge and communication that drives all of us on some level, and the human capacity to recognize, and perhaps sometimes celebrate, our own insignificance. The Voyager mission took place in the midst of the Cold War, in a bitterly divided world. Now, although we are more and more connected through global technologies of travel and the Internet, productive communication between different ideological belief systems appears more and more fraught. The Farthest reminds us of a time when people reached out in love and friendship not only to each other, but also to beings and creatures that may or may not exist, in the belief that other lives, and other worlds, are possible.

 

Maria Flood is a lecturer in Film Studies at Keele University
 
The 2017 Guth Gafa International Documentary Film Festival runsruns 4 – 7 August. 

 
 

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Irish Film Review: The Farthest

DIR/WRI: Emer Reynolds • PRO: John Murray, Clare Stronge • DOP: Kate McCullough • ED: Tony Cranstoun • MUS: Ray Harman • CAST: Frank Drake, Carolyn Porco, John Casani

Winning the Audience Award at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival this year says a lot about The Farthest. Many films were well-received at the festival, yet a science documentary is the one that left the biggest impact on the audience. This is not only because of the mind-blowing implications of its subject matter; the story of the farthest man-made object from Earth. The assured direction of Emer Reynolds (http://filmireland.net/2017/02/19/podcast-interview-with-emer-reynolds-director-of-the-farthest/) presented the story with cinematic presence. When documentaries feature impressive visuals such as those here, it commands its place on the big screen.

The Farthest tells the story of the two Voyager spacecrafts, launched into space by NASA in 1977 and currently leaving the outer boundaries of our solar system. In marking the 40th anniversary, The Farthest gathers an impressive assortment of interviews from people closely involved in the Voyager program. The purpose of the project was to send two spacecrafts on a reconnaissance mission of the solar system’s planets, transmitting new discoveries back to Earth before leaving the solar system and hurtling off into interstellar space forever. If not strictly “forever”, the spacecrafts were designed to last for billions of years and could potentially outlast planet Earth itself and be the only trace that we ever existed.

Not one to miss the bigger picture, Carl Sagan realised the Voyager program had an entirely unique but time-sensitive opportunity; sending a time capsule of Earth’s civilisation into space. With only months to go before the launch, Sagan received NASA’s blessing to lead a team producing a Golden Record that would be stored onboard with visual instructions on how to play it. It is virtually impossible that Voyager will ever be intercepted by an alien civilisation but IF one discovers it, they could transfer frequencies on the record onto a screen and see 115 images of Earth. They would also hear a selection of the Earth’s noises and human languages as well as a 90-minute selection of music from across the world’s cultures. It is worth listening to the record’s contents online and reflecting on humanity’s presentation of itself in the 1970s.

Since the chances of its discovery by extra-terrestrials are miniscule, the Voyager Golden Record is primarily a statement for ourselves; a reflection of our higher values and an invaluable thought experiment on how we would present ourselves to a galaxy many have yearned to explore. It was created during a very specific sliver of time in the 1970s; the threat of environmental destruction loomed, the threat of nuclear holocaust persisted. The world was being torn in all sorts of directions amid an unprecedented technology boom yet it was beginning to be perceived as a global community facing common responsibilities. Sending a message in a bottle to outer space was a bold statement for the time, suggesting a species optimistic enough that it would triumph over its problems.

So fascinating are the implications of the Golden Record that it often gets the most focus over Voyager’s scientific team and their amazing discoveries about our solar system. Emer Reynolds weaves these threads together, each given equal weight to the Voyager’s physical journey of mind-blowing proportions and to the stories of the people who worked on this incredible project. Candour is drawn from a diverse range of people involved in this project and distilled into a two-hour running time packed full of information presented with clarity and momentum.

The thrill of discovery that scientists felt about each planet is conveyed with great impact. The long stretches of travel between planets are when the focus shifts to broader issues at play or the contents of the Golden Record, whose selection could justify a documentary of its own. This narrative structure allows The Farthest to take a broader view of the project and build chronologically towards the stunning realisation that objects made by human hands are now outside of our solar system.

As incredible as this story is, a lesser director would not have made the subject come alive as a cinematic experience. Emer Reynolds crafts a strong audio-visual sensibility to The Farthest. A soundscape of radio frequency noises and an eclectic soundtrack engage the viewer. Ray Harman’s poignant compositions complement music taken from the Voyager Golden Record’s collection. Other licensed tracks, apart from the closing song, all come from 1977 or earlier, grounding the film’s vibe in the era during which Voyager left Earth never to return. This imbues the Voyager with a character insofar as it can be but the visual sensibility on display here is anything but dated.

Opening shots of the sky are beautifully sharp compositions by cinematographer Kate McCullough. That McCullough has worked primarily in documentary before illustrates that strong visuals needn’t be absent from the form of documentary nor should they be. Visual effects are refreshingly alternated between CG shots of Voyager in space and close-up footage of paints, chemicals and dyes mixing together in fabulous galactic tableaus. The latter technique was pioneered by Douglas Trumbull for stunning sequences in 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Tree of Life.

A particularly jaw-dropping visual accompanies the approach to each planet by showing the actual approach to each planet. Black-and-white photos from Voyager during their long approach towards planets are edited into an enthralling montage as each grey world looms out of the immense darkness. There are so many surprises from Voyager’s images and from rich archive footage precisely selected to build the story’s momentum.

This is all edited together into a superb cinematic experience and one with a far more global consciousness than any Irish film to date. The cosmic perspective it instils makes threats to the environment seem inexcusably reckless and national boundaries seem petty. It also makes space exploration seem daunting yet utterly captivating for its possibilities. The Farthest has a profound impact on viewers such that it would make them appreciate these words of Carl Sagan, “How lucky we are to live in this time, the first moment in human history, where we are in fact visiting other worlds”.

Jonathan Victory

120 minutes
PG (See IFCO for details)

The Farthest is released 28th July 2017

The Farthest – Official Website

 

 

This review originally appeared March 22, 2017 @ http://filmireland.net/2017/03/22/adiff-2017-irish-film-review-the-farthest/

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‘The Farthest’ to Screen in Cinemas

The award-winning documentary The Farthest which tells the story of NASA’s iconic Voyager mission and its Golden Record will be released in Irish cinemas on Friday, 28th July.

Speaking about the release, the Emmy-nominated and multi-award-winning director Emer Reynolds said: “As an epic space adventure, we are over the moon that Irish audiences will soon be able to experience the wonderful story of Voyager on the big screen.  This is a film for anyone who has ever looked up and wondered….”.

It’s one of humankind’s greatest achievements.  More than 12 billion miles away a tiny spaceship is leaving our Solar System and entering the void of deep space – the first human-made object ever to do so.  Launched in August 1977, Voyager has defied all the odds, survived countless near misses and almost 40 years later continues to beam revolutionary information across unimaginable distances with less computing power than a modern hearing aid.  It’s estimated that Voyager’s nuclear generator will last another decade before the lights finally go out.  But this little craft will travel on for millions of years, carrying a Golden Record bearing recordings and images of life on Earth.  It could very well outlive humanity and our creations and be the only evidence that we ever existed.

An entirely Irish production, The Farthest includes interviews with 30 of the original scientists and engineers who built and flew the ground breaking mission, never-seen-before archive footage from inside NASA along with spectacular CGI, designed and created by Irish talent.  The film not only celebrates these magnificent machines, the people who built them and the vision that propelled them farther than anyone could have ever hoped but it also explores what it is to be human and the mysteries that define our existence.

The film has been capturing the imaginations of audiences across the globe since its world premiere at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival earlier this year where it picked up three awards for Best Irish Documentary, the AUDI-ence Award and the George Byrne Maverick Award (Emer Reynolds).  It has gone on to screen at some of the world’s most renowned film festivals including Tribeca and the Sydney International Film Festival where it just received another Audience Award and it will screen this week at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The Farthest was produced by John Murray and Clare Storage for Crossing the Line Films.  Wildcard Distribution will be releasing the film in Irish cinemas on July 28th.

 

 

 

Podcast: Interview with Emer Reynolds, Director of ‘The Farthest’

ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: The Farthest

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ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: The Farthest

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Jonathan Victory voyages to The Farthest, Emer Reynolds’ documentary on NASA’s Voyager mission.

Winning the Audience Award at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival this year says a lot about The Farthest. Many films were well-received at the festival, yet a science documentary is one that left the biggest impact on the audience. This is not only because of the mind-blowing implications of its subject matter; the story of the farthest man-made object from Earth. The assured direction of Emer Reynolds (http://filmireland.net/2017/02/19/podcast-interview-with-emer-reynolds-director-of-the-farthest/ ) presented the story with cinematic presence. When documentaries feature impressive visuals such as those here, it commands its place on the big screen.

The Farthest tells the story of the two Voyager spacecrafts, launched into space by NASA in 1977 and currently leaving the outer boundaries of our solar system. In marking the 40th anniversary, The Farthest gathers an impressive assortment of interviews from people closely involved in the Voyager program. The purpose of the project was to send two spacecraft on a reconnaissance mission of the solar system’s planets, transmitting new discoveries back to Earth before leaving the solar system and hurtling off into interstellar space forever. If not strictly “forever”, the spacecraft were designed to last for billions of years and could potentially outlast planet Earth itself and be the only trace that we ever existed.

Not one to miss the bigger picture, Carl Sagan realised the Voyager program had an entirely unique but time-sensitive opportunity; sending a time capsule of Earth’s civilisation into space. With only months to go before the launch, Sagan received NASA’s blessing to lead a team producing a Golden Record that would be stored onboard with visual instructions on how to play it. It is virtually impossible that Voyager will ever be intercepted by an alien civilisation but IF one discovers it, they could transfer frequencies on the record onto a screen and see 115 images of Earth. They would also hear a selection of the Earth’s noises and human languages as well as a 90-minute selection of music from across the world’s cultures. It is worth listening to the record’s contents online and reflecting on humanity’s presentation of itself in the 1970s.

Since the chances of its discovery by extra-terrestrials are miniscule, the Voyager Golden Record is primarily a statement for ourselves; a reflection of our higher values and an invaluable thought experiment on how we would present ourselves to a galaxy many have yearned to explore. It was created during a very specific sliver of time in the 1970s; the threat of environmental destruction loomed, the threat of nuclear holocaust persisted. The world was being torn in all sorts of directions amid an unprecedented technology boom yet it was beginning to be perceived as a global community facing common responsibilities. Sending a message in a bottle to outer space was a bold statement for the time, suggesting a species optimistic enough that it would triumph over its problems.

So fascinating are the implications of the Golden Record that it often gets the most focus over Voyager’s scientific team and their amazing discoveries about our solar system. Emer Reynolds weaves these threads together, each given equal weight to the Voyager’s physical journey of mind-blowing proportions and to the stories of the people who worked on this incredible project. Candour is drawn from a diverse range of people involved in this project and distilled into a two-hour running time packed full of information presented with clarity and momentum.

The thrill of discovery that scientists felt about each planet is conveyed with great impact. The long stretches of travel between planets are when the focus shifts to broader issues at play or the contents of the Golden Record, whose selection could justify a documentary of its own. This narrative structure allows The Farthest to take a broader view of the project and build chronologically towards the stunning realisation that objects made by human hands are now outside of our solar system.

As incredible as this story is, a lesser director would not have made the subject come alive as a cinematic experience. Emer Reynolds crafts a strong audio-visual sensibility to The Farthest. A soundscape of radio frequency noises and an eclectic soundtrack engage the viewer. Ray Harman’s poignant compositions complement music taken from the Voyager Golden Record’s collection. Other licensed tracks, apart from the closing song, all come from 1977 or earlier, grounding the film’s vibe in the era during which Voyager left Earth never to return. This imbues the Voyager with a character insofar as it can be but the visual sensibility on display here is anything but dated.

Opening shots of the sky are beautifully sharp compositions by cinematographer Kate McCullough. That McCullough has worked primarily in documentary before illustrates that strong visuals needn’t be absent from the form of documentary nor should they be. Visual effects are refreshingly alternated between CG shots of Voyager in space and close-up footage of paints, chemicals and dyes mixing together in fabulous galactic tableaus. The latter technique was pioneered by Douglas Trumbull for stunning sequences in 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Tree of Life.

A particularly jaw-dropping visual accompanies the approach to each planet by showing the actual approach to each planet. Black-and-white photos from Voyager during their long approach towards planets are edited into an enthralling montage as each grey world looms out of the immense darkness. There are so many surprises from Voyager’s images and from rich archive footage precisely selected to build the story’s momentum.

This is all edited together into a superb cinematic experience and one with a far more global consciousness than any Irish film to date. The cosmic perspective it instils makes threats to the environment seem inexcusably reckless and national boundaries seem petty. It also makes space exploration seem daunting yet utterly captivating for its possibilities. The Farthest has a profound impact on viewers such that it would make them appreciate these words of Carl Sagan, “How lucky we are to live in this time, the first moment in human history, where we are in fact visiting other worlds”.

The Farthest screened on Sunday 26th February 2017 at the Savoy as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

 

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Podcast: Interview with Emer Reynolds, Director of ‘The Farthest’

the-farthest-main-image-3-1024x510

Jonathan Victory talks to Emer Reynolds about her stunning documentary on NASA’s Voyager mission, which screens at this year’s Audi Dublin International Film Festival. 

It is one of humankind’s greatest achievements. More than 12 billion miles away a tiny spaceship is leaving our Solar System and entering the void of deep space – the first man-made object ever to do so. Dying within its heart is a nuclear generator that will beat for perhaps another decade before the lights on Voyager 1 finally go out. But this little craft will travel on for millions of years, carrying a Golden Record bearing recordings and images of life on Earth. In all likelihood Voyager will outlast humanity. The Farthest will celebrates these magnificent machines, the men and women who built them and the vision that propelled them farther than anyone could ever have hoped.

The Farthest screens on Sunday, 26th Feb 2017 at 2:00pm at the Savoy cinema.

Director Emer Reynolds and Voyager Project Manager (1977) John Casani will attend this screening.

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