AFI Docs 2019
A wide-ranging look at America’s quest to land on the Moon.
As noted previously, this month brings with it several space-focused documentaries, timed to recognize the 50th anniversary of humanity’s successful landing on the Moon. Robert Stone’s project, by virtue of its six-hour length and expansive focus, is likely the broadest one. Voiceover accompanies archival footage, rather than the standard PBS talking heads, and the docuseries benefits by making some unique choices in participants or protagonists on which to place the spotlight. In addition to familiar figures – astronauts like Buzz Aldrin, for example – Stone also foregrounds the stories of Ed Dwight, who was poised for a time to be the first African American astronaut, and Poppy Northcutt, who gained public attention as the first woman who was part of NASA’s Mission Control, among other figures. These profiles and others wisely serve the larger purpose of recontextualizing the Space Race across the multiple historical and societal developments of the 1960s – including civil rights, women’s rights, the growing influence of television and media, and, of course, Cold War politics – and, as a result, help distinguish this project from the others being broadcast this month.