RIDM 2015 Review: Star*Men

 

Director Alison Rose, second from right, and her astronomer friends take a break at the Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah.
Director Alison Rose, second from right, and her astronomer friends take a break at the Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah.

Majestic music, monumental landscapes, mighty telescopes, and millions and millions of stars and galaxies! Billions, actually, but I was enjoying the alliteration.

You will find those things and more in the documentary film Star*Men. It’s a real treat. In addition to the sound and images mentioned above, you get human interest stories with historical significance.

The 1957 launch of the Soviet space satellite Sputnik in 1957 caused serious alarm in the West. The other side in the Cold War had better technology – what might they do with it? There must have been some wounded pride, too, because Sputnik was right up there in the night sky for anyone to see.

The U.S. did not have enough experts of its own and recruited scientists from all over the world to help it compete in this “Space Race.” The “star men” of the film’s title are Roger Griffin, Donald Lynden-Bell, Wal Sargent and Nick Woolf, British astronomers who were hired to work at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. As they explain, this was wonderful in so many ways. At that time there was little work in the U.K. for people with degrees in astronomy. They could leave the class system and the U.K. weather behind for sunny skies and open roads.

Photo taken by Roger Griffin in 1960 show his fellow astronomers at a their U.S. campsite with a large English flag. After they noticed the American fondness for their flag, they decided to take lots of photos with their own.
Photo taken by Roger Griffin in 1960 show his fellow astronomers at a their U.S. campsite with a large English flag. After they noticed the American fondness for their flag, they decided to take lots of photos with their own.

All four made important discoveries in astronomy during their working lives. In time two returned to the U.K. and two found other jobs in the U.S. Beside explaining their accomplishments, director Alison Rose takes us along when the four have a reunion, 50 years after their arrival in California, that includes much fascinating talk and some very strenuous hiking, including a visit to the Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah. And they wear huge backpacks while doing it, too! The cinematography of Star*Men is exceptional – natural landscapes and the views of star galaxies and nebulae are stunning. The music is great, too. Director Alison Rose will attend the screening and answer questions afterwards.

The Very Large Array, an astronomicla radio observatory in New Mexico. Do they look like giant ears to you? (Malcolm Park photo from Star*Men web site.
The Very Large Array, an astronomical radio observatory in New Mexico. Do they look like giant ears to you? (Malcolm Park photo from Star*Men web site.

Star*Men
Directed by Alison Rose
Country: Canada
Year: 2015
Language : English
Runtime: 88 min
Production : Alison Rose
Cinematography : Daniel Grant
Editing: Dave Kazala
Sound: Ken Myhr, Daniel Pellerin, Peter Sawade
Contact: Alison Rose
aer@inigofilms.com
Star*Men, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, 6 p.m.
Cinémathèque Québécoise – Salle Claude-Jutra, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information.

 

FIFA 2015: See Escape From Moominvalley for beautiful paintings by Tove Jansson

A still life by Tove Jansson, from the documentary film Escape From Moominville.
A still life by Tove Jansson, from the documentary film Escape From Moominville.

No need to be a Tove Jansson fan, or to know anything about her to enjoy Escape From Moomin Valley, it’s such a visual pleasure.

Tove Jansson (1914-2001) a member of Finland’s Swedish minority, achieved fame and presumably, fortune, through Moomins, creatures of her own invention who look vaguely like upright hippos. Moomins appeared in children’s books and a long-running comic strip; they are available as figurines, plush toys and printed on assorted bags, mugs, aprons, pencil cases, notebooks, etc. (Local publisher Drawn & Quarterly printed a large volume of her work in 2006.)

Artist and author Tove Jansson as a young adult, from the documentary film Escape From Moominville.
Artist and author Tove Jansson as a young adult, from the documentary film Escape From Moominville.

Jansson wrote short stories for adults and plays, as well, but she always considered herself a painter first and foremost. That’s what she wrote on her tax return, according to Escape From Moomin Valley.

Jansson came from an arty family; her father was a sculptor, her mother a graphic artist. She was expected to be an artist and a good one, too.

The film uses lots of photos, sketches, paintings and extracts read from Jansson’s letters and diaries to fill us in on her family life (she often argued with her father) her friends, her art classes and her travels. She studied in Stockholm and Paris, and visited Dresden, Brittany and Florence. Probably many other places, too. She was a forceful character and her art is wonderful to look at. Her studio is quite impressive, too. You might be jealous!

A still life by Tove Jansson, from the documentary film Escape From Moominville.
A still life by Tove Jansson, from the documentary film Escape From Moominville.

Jansson speaks briefly in the film and there are many remarks from her brothers, niece, and childhood friends.

Escape From Moominvalley is being shown as part of a double bill with the 55-minute film J.R.R. Tolkien: des mots, des mondes. A review of that is coming up! There’s a connection, too – while I don’t remember it in Escape From Moominvalley, Jansson illustrated a Swedish edition of The Hobbit.

Sunday, March 29, 2015, 1:30 pm, J.A. de Sève Theatre, McConnell Library Building, Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

Escape From Moominvalley
Finland, Denmark, Sweden / 2014 / Color / 58 Min / Finnish S.T. English

A still life by Tove Jansson, from the documentary film Escape From Moominville.
A still life by Tove Jansson, from the documentary film Escape From Moominville.

Escape From Moominvalley
Realisation: Charlotte Airas
Script: Charlotte Airas, Kimmo Kohtamäki
Cinematography: Timo Peltonen
Sound: Pietari Koskinen
Editing: Kimmo Kohtamäki
Music: Pessi Levanto
Narration: Ylva Ekblad
Participation(s): Sophia Jansson, Per Olof Jansson, Boel Westin, Erik Kruskopf, Boris Konickoff, Tuula Karjalainen
Producer(s): Kaarle Aho
Production: Making Movies
Distribution: Making Movies
The Festival International du Film sur l’Art, known as FIFA, runs until Sunday, March 29, 2015. Visit the web site www.artfifa.com for more information