New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: Spaceship Earth

This comprehensive documentary detailing the 1990’s Biosphere2 scientific phenomenon provides even more fodder for Earth’s current Covid-19 quarantine. It was a sci-experiment that was not fiction at all when 8 altruistic men and women lived intentionally isolated for 2 years in the sealed complex. The purpose was to see if humans could support themselves living in space. The answer was yes, and no. And it garnered monumental media attention. 

Director Matt Wolf scoured some 2,000 hours of archival footage taken by one of the Biospherians, physician, Roy Wolford, who brought a video camera to document just about everything they were doing inside. Wolf narrates with actuality from the team, Wolford, Jane Poynter, Linda Leigh, Mark Van Thillo, Taber MacCallum, Abigail Alling, Sally Silverstone and Bernd Zabel. The film shows how they conducted experiments, grew sustainable crops for their food supply, checked the air quality and kept tabs on their general well-being, living totally encapsulated in a series of attached buildings with futuristic angular windows in Arizona from 1991-1993.

Click this link to see the Chicago International Film Festival Zoom Chat we participated in with Chicago Tribune’s Anthony Kaufman moderating. Director Matt Wolf talks about making the film. Linda Leigh and Mark Nelson talk about being Biospherians and how it affected what they are doing today. 

John Allen was the ring leader who organized this group of committed, curious, creative hippie types. They originally came together in San Francisco in the 1980’s. Led by a young, charismatic Allen, they organized a theater group that tangled issues of the day, including the environment, global warming, sustainability, and the arts.

At Allen’s urging, they graduated from staging productions of their avant-garde “Theater of All Possibilities,” to acting on what concerned them. The film shows the ship they built to tour the world to see, first-hand, what needed to be done. You see how they worked together to build the ship called the Herculatis. They also built a sustainable farm in Australia, an art gallery in London, and another project in Puerto Rico. Then they stayed together deciding to become members of a living experiment quarantined in a replica of this planet’s ecosystem. It was actually a space expedition on Earth. Rich Texas oil baron, Ed Bass came up with $30 million dollars to fund this monumental environmental and ecological exploratory adventure. It all seemed folly at first, but you get to see the planning and discussion resulting in Biosphere 2 rising in the hot Arizona desert. 

The media hype was more brutal than the training and they seemed relieved to finally get inside, close the door, get out of those slick red space suits and get to work.

The film shows how hard they worked using scientific equipment to monitor the air, water, and experiments inside their habitat. It was hard to plant crops without big farm equipment. Those sustainable crops were supposed to feed them and give off plenty of oxygen. But the crops did not provide enough variety and, at one point, they had to eat beets made every which way. It also took them awhile to realize that they weren’t getting enough oxygen from the plants. That severely affected their energy level, breathing and even brain power. And not being able to take long walks and other activity outside, plus their lack of interaction with a more diverse population became mentally taxing.

This is particularly relevant under the present “stay home” restrictions to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. Also relevant was the political influence to oust the project’s management and stop the experiment. It was surprising to see the very recognizable figure, Steve Bannon, as a young rabble rouser.  Wolf documents how Bass, who financed the project, hired Bannon to monitor the Biosphere operation which put the crew and the project in jeopardy.

This film is fascinating sci-fi brought down to Earth. Director Wolf exposes the science and psyche of the crew who learned so many lessons about isolation from their Biosphere 2 adventure. Lessons we have been dealing with during CoVid-19. This was an experiment meant to see if humans could live confined in Space. Who knew this might actually happen on Earth? 

NEON 1 hour 53 minutes         Not Rated

VOD Amazon Prime, Hulu, VUDU, You Tube, Google Play

from Movies and Shakers

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