This month’s films are both independent new releases that will struggle to find audiences while theaters are shuttered. The Sie Film Center is one of those theaters, and if you can, please support them by screening films through their website, denverfilm.org. Spaceship Earth, and many others, are now playing there. Support local theaters and enjoy great independent films at the same time!
Spaceship Earth (2020)
You may remember the 1991 story about eight “adventurers” who lived in an Arizona biodome for two years, called Biosphere 2. Their ultimate goal was to lay the groundwork for a dome that could be reproduced as a space colony if humanity continued to destroy the Earth. The self-sustaining environment they created included animals, plants, crops, a desert, and an ocean with a living coral reef, among other things. The participants were not (all) actual scientists, but each had their own areas of specialty and experience. The experiment was fraught with problems, did not end well, and the press painted it mostly as an unscientific publicity-stunt engineered by charlatans. The real story, however, is much more complicated.
This new documentary from director Matt Wolf sorts through the complications and the history of the group behind the project. That group, led by charismatic systems ecologist John Allen and funded by billionaire Ed Bass, had its roots as a counterculture collective in the late 60s; they lived together in San Francisco where they started a theater company; they built a sustainable ranch in New Mexico; they constructed and launched a ship that sailed around the world; they started several businesses (including an art gallery in London and a ranch in Australia); and then they conceived the Biosphere 2 project based on the ideas of futurist/inventor Buckminster Fuller. This short description does not do them justice, however; they were an eclectic, scientific, creative, and forward-thinking group that achieved remarkable things all around the world. And they were controversial.
The film efficiently documents the group’s journey up to, including, and after the Biosphere 2 project. One member was an amateur filmmaker in the 60s who taught herself how to use a 16mm camera, so much of the doc is actual footage taken over the course of 25+ years, interspersed with news footage from the 90s and contemporary interviews. The verve, energy, and sheer bravado of the group bursts through the screen in this footage. When we finally see the mostly one-sided, adversarial news footage from the 90s, it seems completely discordant. That is a win for the documentary.
Were they scientists? Charlatans? Well-meaning, concerned environmentalists? Or some combination of all the above? That is the beauty of a documentary—we are given the story, and it is up to us to decide, even if the film itself, (like any good documentary), may have its own rhetorical objectives. Watch this with others and talk it out!
Available at denverfilm.org.
Working Man (2020)
This new film from first-time writer/director Robert Jury is a gem. After a midwestern plant closes, Allery (the fabulous Pete Gerety) sneaks in and continues to work. Soon, others follow. The film takes an interesting turn and doesn’t necessarily tie everything up neatly. There is something alluring and evocative in its simplicity and the comment on retaining your dignity in a world with little. Viewed through the lens of our contemporary world, it has a lot to say.
Available on VOD outlets.
Vincent Piturro, PhD, is a Professor of Film and Media Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook and @VincentPiturro on Twitter.