On July 16, 1969, exactly 50 years ago on Tuesday, Apollo 11 launched into space as part of a journey that would lead to the first steps ever taken on the moon. To commemorate this historic day, the Arkansas Times Film Series is presenting the documentary For All Mankind, which originally premiered in 1989. A Q&A panel will follow the screening. KUAR’s Sarah Kellogg spoke with Omaya Jones, the programmer for the Arkansas Times Film Series, and Darrell Health, one of the panelists, about the film. The following is a portion of each of their conversations.
Omaya Jones: "So the film For All Mankind came out around 1989. It is directed by a man named Al Reinert, who was a journalist and film enthusiast who around 1978 or so was interviewing various astronauts with the NASA space program. And in doing this he discovered that there is a bunch of footage that NASA had shot during the various Apollo missions that had never been seen by the public or had only ever been seen on the small screen.
So then he spent the next decade going through something like six million feet of unprocessed footage of all of the various Apollo missions and he edited it together in an 80 minute documentary that sort of tells the story of a moon mission from start to finish."
Sarah Kellogg: "And so with other films about the Apollo 11 mission, including the one that just came out recently this year [Apollo 11], why this film? What makes this film significant?"
Jones: "I was at a film festival called True/False earlier this year and I saw Apollo 11 there. And the director talked about this film and how influential it was for him. So then I sought it out and I saw this film and I just thought that, one: it’s first. Well, it may not be the first film about space, but … this one I think is the most influential to a lot of other similar types of films and the director recently passed.
He died December 31, of 2018. And he was just a long-time space enthusiast. He also was a writer. He co-wrote Apollo 13 the film and, I think there's something about it, being like the first one to go through this footage and really process it and being into it the decade that he spent working on it, that to me was really one of the reasons why I wanted to show it."
Kellogg: "So…tell me a little bit about the process of selecting the film for the Arkansas Times Film Series, a little bit about how kind of how you curate these things, get together the panel et cetera."
Jones: "So, we usually don't have a panel, but when I selected this film it just occurred to me that because it was a special event, that we could do something a little different, a little special. And with this film I also just happened to notice that it was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch. So everything just kind of coincided nicely for that.
Then I thought that the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society was a good resource to reach out to for doing the panel because before I started doing this and even the research I had just thought...I myself had not really realized how much of a feat it was. I thought it was just something that you can just math out right? If you just really know math you can figure out angles, trajectories, how much fuel you would need and it didn't occur to me sort of like, how much actually went into figuring out how to do it and how NASA sort of step by step incrementally built on the process to get there and I just thought that it would be neat to have a panel of people of experts who could sort of elaborate for an audience all of that."
Kellogg: "Why is it important to kind of, showcase space exploration not even just from like a scientific perspective from a film perspective, you know. What's the importance of films like this?"
Jones: "One thing in doing the research was learning that the astronauts actually studied cinematography because you know they were actually filming the stuff in space and I think that's pretty cool.
In terms of the footage shot, the most impressive thing to me is about 12 or 13 minutes into the film when you see the rocket fire and it fills up this whole screen. You know it’s a thirty/forty foot screen and you just see how much fire and force is involved. And I’ll tell you when I saw Apollo 11 for the first time on the big screen it was the first thing that really drove home how much power it takes to defy gravity to get something that size off the ground. Because you see everything sort of shakes and reverberates with the force of the rocket and it's really something to behold just the amount of fire that there is and just it's really cool."
Darrell Health: "I've seen the film before, but it's been many years ago and I remember liking it. In fact I have the DVD version of it and it's a great documentary. It doesn't take the history of Apollo in chronological sequence, it kind of jumps around which is fine. It gives us kind of an overall view and a feel for what Apollo was about and what it meant to the astronauts. I remember it has a cool score by Brian Eno, who was a producer for David Bowie during his Berlin years."
Kellogg: "Why is it important to discuss our history with space?"
Heath: "We are naturally explorers. Apollo, I think represents the culmination of that particular aspect of humanity. To venture out into space, you know, we began as explorers of the land. If you look back in human history, we explored the land then we started sailing on the seas and then venturing out to other places and finally here in the 20th century we were able to step out into space and set foot on another world. That in itself is a scientific and technological feat and probably one of the greatest in human history.
But there's a lot of other benefits that have derived from that. Some are tangible some are intangible. For example with the Apollo missions…whenever we go out to space we have to invent new technologies, new materials some of which have wider applications in the real world beyond just getting us into space."
Kellogg: "Why is the study of space important? How can we learn things not even just on a scientific basis but on an artistic basis as well?"
Heath: "Going into space, exploring space...it is mainly for scientific reasons and with the Apollo mission the astronauts brought back hundreds of pounds of rocks that have allowed us to figure out where the moon came from the early conditions in the solar system, lots of great science stuff. But it also inspires us to do and be better than we are. We send these robotic probes out in space and that's very cool. We've done a lot of great science with those, but there's just something about human beings setting foot on another world that inspires us more than a robot picking up rocks on Mars can.
To give you another example of how space exploration has inspired us going back to the 1960s Apollo 8 and when the astronauts took that photo of what's become known as Earthrise, they were looking back towards the Earth and there was this beautiful blue green world hanging there in space like a fragile bubble and underneath it was the sterile surface of the moon. So had these contrasts and that image helped inspire the environmental movement. People began to realize just how fragile the planet really was and it really motivated a lot of people to become environmentalists and to enact legislation to help protect the earth. So that photograph, it's artistic. It's got scientific value as well, but it’s inspired millions and made us see ourselves, our planet, in a whole new perspective."
Kellogg: "Where should the world go next when talking about space exploration?"
Heath: "Well the plan now is, at least as far as manned space flight goes, the next step is Mars. In fact, going back to the Apollo program, that was the original plan. We were to go to the moon and then we're going to go on to Mars, but due to things like the Vietnam War, a very bad economy, people just became desensitized or uninterested in further space exploration. Whenever you have an economy that's in trouble, politicians immediately look for programs like space exploration to cut in order to make it look like you're doing something to the balance the budgets. We have just kind of lost our vision. We lost the idea of going on to Mars and now here we are in the 21st century and we've got this resurgence in the idea of space exploration.
We've got private companies. We've got Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Blue Origin, [which is] Jeff Bezos’ of Amazon and we've got a lot of different countries, India, China, Japan, Russia [and] the United States are now all jockeying for position to put footprints on Mars. Whether or not that's going to be achievable in the next decade or so remains to be seen. We’ll have to wait and see. There's still a lot of technological hurdles that we have to overcome before we can send men safely to Mars and have them return. But China and [the] United States are shooting for the late 2020s early 2030s as possible launch windows into going on to Mars. I hope I get to see it, but I want us to do it carefully and I want us to do it safely. And I would rather, instead of all these nations jockeying for position…I don't want another space race like that. I don't want to have nationalistic pride become the driving motivator for space exploration. I would like to see the United States, the European Space Agency, China's space agency, [the] Japanese space agency, all collaborate together to put human beings on Mars, but that's the Star Trek fan in me, I guess."
For All Mankind screens Tuesday at the Riverdale 10 Cinema The screening is at 7 p.m. Tickets are $9. More information can be found here.