Sunday, May 21, 2017

TwoOhSix Interviews (SIFF 2017) - The Farthest Director Emer Reynolds

During the first weekend of the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival, I had an opportunity to sit down with Emer Reynolds to discuss her new documentary film, The Farthest, which is an in depth and entertaining exploration of the ongoing Voyager spacecraft mission. After watching the film, I was very excited to find out more about what went into creating this project and Ms. Reynolds was more than happy to tell me all about her latest passion project.

The first thing I wanted to ask is where did the idea for The Farthest come from?

The story of Voyager, and space in general, is very close to my heart and I have had a love of space and science since I was a child. I was pretty obsessed with Voyager throughout my childhood as it was sailing on through the solar system and I was dazzled by what it was sending back. John Murray, my co-director on Here Was Cuba, was also a producer on this film. Back in 2013 we discussed making a film about Voyager that would explore this great, romantic adventure and we thought it was such a great story of discovery and achievement.

As we were talking about making the film, NASA announced that Voyager One had become the first man made object to leave the solar system so it was back in the news after first being launched in 1977! It was achieving all over again so we wrote a story really fast and the finances worked pretty quickly because there was a great appetite for the story. It was definitely a moment of serendipity.

Was there a lot of communication with NASA and how much cooperation did you get from them to be able to get access to material, the people, and everything else involved with being able to put this film together?

They were wonderful! They were very supportive of the project and very on board with what we were trying to make which is a film that would be accessible to a general audience and not just science or space-centric audience. The film would actually talk to the big dream of the mission and to the glory of it so they were fantastic and helpful with giving us access to all of the research and all the archives, and just everything.

Was there anything you were not allowed to have access to?

You know, there were certain rules of what you can film and what you can show but overall they were fantastic.

When looking for the people that you wanted to talk to, was there assistance from NASA or did you have to search them out on your own?

NASA was very helpful, but we, as film makers are an independent production company so we did all the research in trying to find, not only people who had been on the mission, but also the people who would be the great story tellers for the film. We went on a detailed search to find who would tell the story the best way.

Producer Clare Stronge and I went on a whistle stop tour of American cities, I think it was 12 cities in eight days and we met so many scientists and engineers to find who would really open their heart to us and would actually come on board with what we wanted which was to really talk to the human side of the story.

What was the process like of getting to know the people and working with them to the point where they are the ones who end up being on the film?

Most of them, about 90% of them, we had had dinner with them and had big chats with them about the type of film we were trying to make. Science can be intimidating so I just wanted them to be human and authentic and to really just let us in. We wanted to get a sense of what it was like to be there on the mission, to dream it up, and to actually pull it off. We took a lot of time to get to know them. Each interview was over three hours long so we were able to create quite a relaxed and trusting atmosphere and it was all about taking the time to just let the story unwind. I remember one of the more senior scientists slid down in his chair and kicked his shoes off so I was like: all right, we're really on to it now!

The film itself plays more as a narrative space adventure rather than just supplying the facts and the history of what happened. Going into making the film, was that intentional or did it just grow out of putting the project together?

It was a bit of both because the story itself has that wonderful Hollywood connection. Will Voyager explode on take off? Will it ever get there? These moments are in the story naturally so we thought it was fantastic that we were going to get to tell this story. When we went to start putting it all together, we had to make those calls on how much or how little because the end result is quite complex and we just had to work our way through how best to keep the audience invested.

A big part of your background is in editing although, on this film, you had Tony Cranstoun in as the editor. Were you still hands on with that process or did you take a step back and say this is the person I am trusting to do the work?

I definitely wanted Tony to have all the advantages of being the editor and not having me sitting in there driving him. In some ways it was great that we both had some sort of editing brain coming to the table, but ultimately I wanted him to do what an editor should be able to do which is to have a big, loud voice and to be expressive and playful and to take risks. Of course, we work very well together, I was so honored to have him. Tony is a huge comedy editor so he was able to bring that sensibility to the table.

You had said earlier that you have had a life long love of space and the whole Voyager mission. Was there anything you took out of making this documentary that you didn't know going in?

The fact that the story itself really happened, yet it turns into a metaphor for human existence or death or infinity or legacy. In regards to the golden record, it invites conversation about how would we want to be remembered when we're long gone and the planet is destroyed because this thing will be out there representing us. I was also really surprised at how moved and touched the scientists and engineers were about this little being, this plucky little thing. It made me think of how attached I became because, in the end, the story is quite sad about how Voyager is going to be out there in space all alone.

The story of Voyager makes me very proud to be human and I'm hoping it makes Americans deeply proud to be American because they are the culture that dreamed it up and had the ability to do it. There is a value to science and in asking questions. There is value in discovery.

What is the one thing you want people to feel after watching the film?

In a word: Hope.

When I look to the stars, I feel that insignificance. I feel how huge and vast and unknown the universe is and yet this film tells you that we discovered stuff that nobody ever knew. Voyager is still out there in interstellar space, discovering person...that we don't know and that we never knew before. It just fills me with pride and with hope and that the value of science, the value of curiosity, and the value of asking questions is all something to be treasured.

Thank you so much, I appreciate you sitting down with me.

Thank you for taking the time.

Check out my review of The Farthest.

The Farthest is an official selection of the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival.

Check out all of our coverage for the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival.

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