Film Fleadh 2017 – review – THE FARTHEST (Emer Reynolds, 2017, Ireland)

Farthest posterThe Farthest is a beautiful, insightful, entertaining, and thought-provoking documentary about the 1977 launch of the Voyager space probes. Their primary mission was to study the Solar System; it included flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. Having completed this, they began an extended one to explore the regions and boundaries of the outer heliosphere and became the first spacecrafts to enter interstellar space and study the interstellar medium.

The information presented in The Farthest, screened at the 29th Galway Film Fleadh, is quite challenging. However, director Emer Reynolds appears to have a genuine excitement for space exploration and a wonderful ability to transmit it through the cinematic medium. Furthermore, her background as Ireland’s premiere editor certainly had an impact on the flawless structure of her latest documentary (though the film itself was edited by Tony Craunstoun). The film, in fact, follows the mission in chronological order, from raising funds for the mission around forty years ago to present day. However, the chronological order is occasionally interrupted with breaks that observe or reflect upon specific aspects of the film, from the human aspects to more abstract and existentialist ones; and all this without missing a beat.

The Farthest features contributions of two dozen members of the original Voyager team; they tell their stories, reveal its scientific particulars, provide detailed accounts and, as they do, they often get emotional, as they remember who they were back then and the emotions they felt as they lived through the mission. These contributions allow the viewer to connect very easily with the story of the Voyager mission on a human level.

Other elements that establish this bridge, and sugarcoat the more “difficult” information, are its many pop cultural references, a soundtrack of “spacey tunes” from the time from The Carpenters’ “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Crafts” to Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them,” memories of popular astrophysicist Dr. Carl Sagan, and the story of the record that was shot off into space. Should the probes have been intercepted by any extra-terrestrial life, they would find this record, which was a time capsule containing as much information on the human race as possible. This record included, among other things, pictures of Earth, recordings of greetings in various languages of the world, and lost of music (one of the tracks being Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”)

Although The Farthest is fun and exciting – a real-life representation of Buzz Lightyear’s “to infinity and beyond” catchphrase or, as Tasha Robinson of The Verge says, driven by “a collegial ‘yay science!’ humor” – the truly wonderful thing about it is that it balances the factual, scientific, historical, human and intimate sides of the Voyager story with an existentialist one it evokes: it confronts us with humanity’s smallness (insignificance, even), in the face of universal infinity. The wonderful special effects by Ian Benjamin Kenny, along with the poetic and emotionally charged cinematography by Kate McCullogh, help make The Farthest a pleasure to watch and, especially, a pleasure to watch in a movie theatre. – ★★★★

THE FARTHEST | 2017, Ireland | Documentary | Directed by – Emer Reynolds / Produced by – John Murray, Clare Stronge / Written by – Emer Reynolds / Music by – Ray Harman / Cinematography by – Kate McCullogh / Editing by – Tony Craunstoun / Running time: 121 mins.

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