2020 Sundance Docs in Focus: SPACESHIP EARTH

SPACESHIP EARTH | Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Phillipe Plailly Science Photo Library

SPACESHIP EARTH
Matt Wolf reveals the strange but true story of the ill-fated Biosphere 2 project.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

In 1991, eight capable men and women were sealed into Biosphere 2, an airtight terrarium in the Arizona desert containing a miniature replica of Earth’s environment. Funded by a Texas oil tycoon hoping to acquire licensable technologies for space colonization, the mission of Biosphere 2 was to maintain an isolated, sustainable environment for two years. It was a mission that became a dystopian simulation of ecological crisis, after which a corporate consultant took over the venture – and disappeared the data.

The investors designed Biosphere 2 to generate a lot of press, but little was revealed about the people who created it. Using archive material and present-day interviews with surviving Biospherians, director Matt Wolf brings us this spirited documentary that follows the gregarious and visionary countercultural collective over half of a century, as they conducted experiments around the globe leading up to Biosphere 2. If SPACESHIP EARTH is a cautionary tale about the forces that threaten our planet, it is also an inspirational tribute to what a small creative group can achieve.

Some Background:

Director/Producer:

  • Matt Wolf
    Past Sundance docs:

    BAYARD & ME (2017, short)
    IT’S ME, HILARY: THE MAN WHO DREW ELOISE (2015, short)

    This is Wolf’s fourth feature doc, following WILD COMBINATION: A PORTRAIT OF ARTHUR RUSSELL, TEENAGE, and last year’s RECORDER: THE MARION STOKES PROJECT.

Producer:

  • Stacey Reiss
    Past Sundance docs:

    SUITED (2016)
    THE EAGLE HUNTRESS (2016)
    IT’S ME, HILARY: THE MAN WHO DREW ELOISE
    I KNEW IT WAS YOU: REDISCOVERING JOHN CAZALE (2009)

    The Emmy-winning Reiss produces both fiction and nonfiction films. She previously was a producer for DATELINE NBC for over a decade.

Co-Producer:

Executive Producers:

  • Jon Kamen
    Recent past Sundance docs:

    TIGERLAND (2019)
    ABSTRACT: THE ART OF DESIGN (2017)
    WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE? (2015)
    WHITEY: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA V JAMES J BULGER
    SOUND AND VISION (2014, VR)

    Kamen is the Emmy-nominated chairman and CEO of RadicalMedia. He also executive produced fellow 2020 Sundance doc WE ARE FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME, in Special Events.

  • Dave Sirulnick
    Past Sundance docs:

    TIGERLAND

    Sirulnick was a longtime executive at MTV before becoming a partner at RadicalMedia.

  • Stanley Buchthal
    Past Sundance docs:

    KUSAMA – INFINITY (2018)
    WATCHERS OF THE SKY (2014)
    MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (2012)
    BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD (2011)
    JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD (2010)

    Dakota Group founder Buchtal was also an executive producer of Sundance narrative feature alum SPANKING THE MONKEY (1994).

  • Dan Cogan
    Past Sundance docs:

    • Dan Cogan
      Recent past Sundance docs:
      SHOOTING THE MAFIA (2019)
      BISBEE ’17 (2018)
      OF FATHERS AND SONS (2018)
      OUR NEW PRESIDENT (2018)
      WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR (2018)
      BENDING THE ARC (2017)
      DINA (2017)
      ICARUS (2017)
      STEP (2017)
      TROPHY (2017)
      UNREST (2017)

      Cogan, the Oscar-winning co-founder and chairman of Impact Partners, has recently launched Story Syndicate, his own production company in partnership with acclaimed filmmaker Liz Garbus. He also serves as executive producer for fellow 2020 Sundance titles US KIDS, in the US Documentary Competition; EPICENTRO, in the World Cinema Documentary Competition; and ASSASSINS, UNTITLED KIRBY DICK/AMY ZIERING FILM, and GIVING VOICE, all in Documentary Premieres.

    • Jenny Raskin
      Recent past Sundance docs:

      SHOOTING THE MAFIA
      BISBEE ’17
      OF FATHERS AND SONS
      OUR NEW PRESIDENT
      WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR
      BENDING THE ARC
      DINA
      ICARUS
      STEP
      UNREST

      Raskin is the executive director of Impact Partners. She also serves as executive producer for US KIDS and GIVING VOICE, and as co-executive producer for EPICENTRO.

    • Geralyn White Dreyfous
      Recent past Sundance docs:

      ALWAYS IN SEASON (2019)
      THE GREAT HACK (2019)
      SHOOTING THE MAFIA
      306 HOLLYWOOD (2018)
      GENERATION WEALTH (2018)
      BISBEE ’17
      OF FATHERS AND SONS
      OUR NEW PRESIDENT
      WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR
      BENDING THE ARC
      STEP

      The Oscar and Emmy-winning co-founder of both Impact Partners and Gamechanger Films also has produced several Sundance fiction and VR alumni projects and has served as a creative advisor for Sundance’s Catalyst Forum. For the 2020 festival, she also serves as executive producer for US KIDS, ASSASSINS, UNTITLED KIRBY DICK/AMY ZIERING FILM, GIVING VOICE, THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS (in the World Cinema Documentary Competition), AGGIE (in Documentary Premieres), BORN INTO BROTHELS (in From the Collection), and executive producer/key collaborator for the New Frontier exhibition PERSUASION MACHINES.

    • Paula Froehle
      Past Sundance docs:

      THE INFILTRATORS (2019)
      306 HOLLYWOOD
      TROPHY

      Froehle is co-founder and CEO of Chicago Media Project, which facilitates philanthropic support of social impact documentaries. She also executive produced fellow 2020 US Documentary Competition title FEELS GOOD MAN, and co-executive produced Sundance fiction feature alumni LAND HO!.

    • Steve Cohen
      Past Sundance docs:

      THE INFILTRATORS
      306 HOLLYWOOD
      TROPHY
      INEQUALITY FOR ALL (2013)
      HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (2012)
      HELL AND BACK AGAIN (2011)

      Cohen is an attorney and co-founder/board chair of Chicago Media Project. He has helped finance numerous documentary projects as a member of Impact Partners. Cohen is also an executive producer for this year’s FEELS GOOD MAN.

    • Pierre Hauser
      Past Sundance docs:

      THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (2012)
      HELL AND BACK AGAIN

      Hauser is an author, book editor, and philanthropist. Together with his wife, notable documentary filmmaker Abigail Disney, he founded the Daphne Foundation, a private family foundation working to address poverty.

    • Nion McEvoy and Leslie Berriman
      Past Sundance docs:

      ALWAYS IN SEASON
      RAISE HELL: THE LIFE & TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS (2019)
      WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?
      INVENTING TOMORROW (2018)
      CHASING CORAL (2017)
      UNREST

      McEvoy is the chairman and CEO of publishing giant the McEvoy Group, while his partner Berriman is executive editor at textbook publisher Pearson Education. Their philanthropic work focuses on art, film, photography, and music, including the Smithsonian, SFMoMA, and SFJAZZ. They are also executive producers on fellow 2020 Sundance titles FEELS GOOD MAN and THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS.

    • Lessing Stern

      Park City-based philanthropist Stern is the founder and CEO of private investment firm Ten Eighty. This is his first producing credit.

    • Andrea van Beuren
      Past Sundance docs:

      WHERE’S MY ROY COHN? (2019)
      WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?
      THE DEVIL WE KNOW (2018)
      INVENTING TOMORROW
      CHASING CORAL
      ALIVE INSIDE (2014)

      van Beuren is the founder and artistic director of newportFILM.

    Editor:

    Associate Editor:

    • Marley McDonald

      This marks McDonald’s first Sundance credit.

    Story Producers:

    • Brian Becker

      Becker has previously produced or served as archival producer for docuseries.

    • Annie Salsich

      Salsich’s background is also in archival production, a role she served for Sundance doc alumni LONG STRANGE TRIP.

    Why You Should Watch:
    As in his past work, Wolf demonstrates thoughtful and engaging storytelling, heightened here by an adept usage of period footage, particularly material shot by the Biospherians themselves, allowing the audience to explore the mysterious environment up close. Weaving together still-urgent environmental themes with outsized personalities, the impact of media coverage, and a cameo by an unexpected figure, the film is entertaining, surprising, and thought provoking.

    More Info:
    Sundance’s Meet the Artist Profile

    For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.