Sundance ’19: Apollo 11

It might be necessary, but it is a shame the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Apollo to the Moon exhibit is currently closed to the public. These days, we desperately need the kind of idealism and optimism it inspires for the Space Program. Fortunately, an important new documentary will serve a similar role by chronicling the Moon landing step by step through newly rediscovered 65mm films and audio recordings. Forget the recent American flag-averse movie. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins play themselves in Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11, which screens during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

It is amazing how well documented the Apollo 11 mission was—and equally amazing that this footage was essentially forgotten until Miller and a team of researchers recovered it from NASA’s archives and the National Archives. The color video is still so vivid, viewers will feel like bystanders in Mission Control. Visually, the film is crisp and pristine, while reflecting the looks and textures of its era.

Aside from some occasional graphics charting the flight of Apollo 11, Miller’s doc consists entirely of this restored footage. There are no talking heads and no dramatic recreations. Yet, Miller, serving as director, editor, and a co-producer, seamlessly assembles a full and compelling narrative of the triumphant Moon landing. None of the history-making moments are missing, but Miller often shows them from a different perspective.

Along the way, the Apollo documentary also conveys a sense of the three crew members’ personalities and captures the electric mood of the nation. There is even a little sly (albeit dark) humor when developments in Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick misadventure briefly manage to break through the wall-to-wall Apollo coverage.

Frankly, there is no reason to watch First Man, because Miller’s Apollo 11 presents the real events as they really happened, with the real people (SPOILER ALERT: they make it safely to the Moon and back). Idiot conspiracy theory-trafficking basketball players will probably continue to deny the Moon landing happened, but now they have no excuse. Apollo 11 is a super-accessible film that will eventually air on CNN, since it will be co-distributed by CNN Films.

Most importantly, the film recaptures a sense of how the Apollo Program inspired the nation. It was a time when we celebrated risk-taking, rather than demonized it. Sadly, it is doubtful we could successfully undertake a comparable endeavor as a nation today. That is why this film is so refreshing. Patrons in Park City should make it a priority—and check their cynicism at the door. Very highly recommended, Apollo 11 screens again today (1/25), Wednesday (1/30), and Thursday (1/31) in Park City and Saturday (1/26) in Salt Lake.

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