Talking In The Shadow of the Moon With Director David Sington
The helmer of the Certified Fresh space doc talks Apollo with RT.
Everyone has a fascination with space and the Apollo missions, but what was fascinating about the film was how much footage I don't think many people have seen.
David Sington: The people who found it really are the producer Duncan Copp and his colleague Chris Reilly who was the archive producer. My company did a film which Duncan directed for us a few years ago. It was a television documentary for National Geographic about a shuttle mission so Duncan spent a lot of time at Johnson filming the training. The public affairs people at Johnson are also the people who look after the archive, so Duncan basically saw this large room full of racks of film cans and asked what it was. They said it was the Apollo film archive, and Duncan realised that basically no-one had actually explored this archive.
At the time of the missions Nasa made thirty-minute film documentaries, from this material, which it put out to the media. If you ring up Nasa and say, "I'd like Apollo footage please," you get a box of these tapes. And it's a lot of material; it was a lot of missions. I think for the vast majority of people making a Nasa documentary, that footage is enough. But obviously behind those little films there are 10,000 rolls of original film material, from the early days of the programme right through to the end. I think a lot of people just didn't really realise it was there.
Nasa themselves had never sought to exploit this material and because we knew about it I think that was a big incentive for us to do the film. It would give us an opportunity, with a decent budget, to spend time in the archive and see what was there, but we were confident there must be hours of interesting material and that it wouldn't have been seen before.
How does it work in terms of clearing this footage for the film?
DS: The brilliant thing about Nasa is that as a publically-funded organisation this material is public domain. In theory anybody can use it and it's license-free. However, you also have to get hold of it. That, I think, requires that you can show the archivist that you know what you're doing and that you have a serious purpose. They're not going to let any old Tom, Dick or Harry go rifling through these film cans because it's historically important material. It's a little bit like going and looking at manuscripts at the British Museum. In theory it's open to all, but in practice you have to be a reputable scholar and show that you know what you're doing and that you have a serious purpose for looking at this stuff. Fortunately we had a pre-existing relationship with the people at Nasa because of the previous film we'd made.
Remastering from the film stock to High Definition video is an expensive business and that's really where the expense lies. We spent a huge deal of money on the archive doing that, so again, in theory it's free, in practise it's really, really expensive!
It's certainly well worth the effort; seeing that footage as sharp and clear as it is in the film is a sight to behold. You realise that you're not seeing computer graphics, you're seeing what these astronauts saw.
DS: To me it's obviously a fantastic technical achievement, Apollo, but it's also a human experience. A great adventure. It's also, I think, a really profound moment in human history; because what makes us human is that we're self-aware. We know our situation while other animals don't. That self-awareness was certainly not complete, or lacked a crucial element, until human beings were able to leave the Earth; to go into space, and look back at the Earth and then return to it. It's like leaving your home as a child, or leaving your home city; when you come back you see it differently. I think these people, and there were only twenty-four of them in the whole of human history, have seen what that is, what our human situation is. And that understanding was communicated to us through the pictures but I think you also want to hear it from them, to listen to them talk.
It's also an important threshold or step in the evolution of human consciousness if one wants to put it in rather grandiose terms. It's nonetheless true. So I think understanding the human level, the human experience, is very important and that's the importance of the Apollo missions. It's not that we returned rock samples from the moon, though that was scientifically enormously important, but that human beings went. It wouldn't have been the same if it were just a robot, as the Russians sent to the moon.