Space Tourists

Space Tourists just won the World Cinema Directing Award for Documentary. Completely deserved. Frei achieved a trust and insiders perspective in a field where access is extremely limited. I’m very happy for this engaging doc.

Space Tourists
Directed: Christian Frei
Switzerland, 98 min.

If you were born post-1969, it’s hard to imagine what all the hubbub surrounding space travel was about. These days information from NASA is rarely seen in the newspapers, much less the front page. Apparently we’re going to Mars….or have we been to Mars? Were there Martians there? In Christian Frei’s newest documentary, “Space Tourists” we are reintroduced to the excitement of space travel. Only this time he’s exploring the industry from the other side of the world, the side whose achievements we like to limit to Sputnik: The Soviet Union.

Anousheh Ansari is a rich woman with a dream: to go into space. And by paying $20 million she’s going to be the first female space tourist. Russian has been allowing space tourists to tag along on flights to the international space station as a way to fund their continued research. Ansari’s $20 million will cover over half the cost of the mission. She gets to spend 8 days in space, Russia gets to send rockets to their station; everyone wins. Even the people left on the ground, who you would think have nothing to do with astronautics, are able to benefit from the industry, collecting the scrap metal that falls from the sky after each launch. From the extremely rich, to the extremely poor, these missions can be beneficial to many people.

Frei uses Jonas Bendiksen, a Magnum photographer, as the glue to hold each side of the story together. Bendiksen travels around Kazakhstan photographing decrepit space stations and the futuristic art in the towns surrounding them. These cities that once thrived, are now ghost towns full of bricked up housing complexes and empty gas stations. Bendiksen captures the hope that once existed there in eerie, barren still photographs while narrating the history of the USSR’s space program.

The film manages to feel both whimsical and realistic as it darts between the stories of Ansari and the men who harvest scrap metal. At times absurd and at times very beautiful, we root for everyone in the film as they attempt to achieve their dreams. While the narrative gets a little muddled at times when Frei tries to incorporate other aspects of space travel (for example, he follows the X-Prize hopefuls as they try to get to the moon), its tone remains consistent. “Space Tourists” is an informative and hopeful documentary that might make you revert back to your 7-year-old self that dreamed of being an astronaut.



Filed under Film Festivals, Whitney

3 responses to “Space Tourists

  1. brian

    i read that the soviets, i mean russians, are going to send a chimpanzee and a robot to mars. i think the robot is going to feed and clean the chimp during the flight. i suspect they’ll end up as best friends, or at least best fiends.

  2. brian

    also, i recently read this book, one dimensional women by nina powers (which is a fantastic book), and i think she mentions anasari and her space tourism. if i remember correctly, it had to do with the fact that anasari hoped that she would be able to eat chocolate in space.

    but i’m interested in seeing this movie.

  3. Out of all the movies I saw at Sundance this year, I think this would be the one you liked the best. It was just really well made without being the same old talking-heads doc you always see.

    I hope that chimp is ok. I really hate the idea of sending animals up to space, even if they do have HAL-like robot friends.

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