Sunday 18 June 2017

Sydney Film Festival (25) - THE FARTHEST (Emer Reynolds, Ireland). Reviewed by Rod Bishop

Jenny Neighbour, documentary programmer for the Sydney Film Festival, has an estimable record with her selections. In another Festival of great documentary offerings, one of the best came in the last couple of days. It’s also one of the most immersive and rewarding films I saw in this year’s program.

The Farthest tells the story of NASA’s Voyager projects, those two weird looking spacecraft sent to the ends of the solar system in 1977 and, in the case of Voyager 1, off into the interstellar where it just keeps on truckin’. There’s a live tracker on the internet that tells me at 5pm on Sunday 18 June, Voyager 1 is 20,644,029,115 kms from Earth traveling at a speed of 35 km per second.

Much like the ebullient quantum mechanics scientists in Particle Fever from a couple of years back, the Voyager team recount their many successes as their spacecraft pass by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune with all their moons and their rings, sending back photos and other data, their on-board computers being reprogrammed remotely.

Much is made of the metal Golden LP record on board, containing messages to aliens from many Earth races and music from all over our world. A great clip shows Steve Martin receiving a message back from aliens who found the LP – “Send More Chuck Berry”.

It’s an inspiring and often very moving film designed to celebrate the triumphs of the mission and to show us just how small a place our planet is in the vastness of the cosmos. Voyager 1 travels on, the first product of our planet to reach beyond the solar system, its computers holding calculation systems less powerful than modern day electronic car keys.

During the credits, Voyager project manager John Casani reappears. He has just heard the interviewer refer to the Voyager as “her”. “Did you say ‘her’?...I don’t like to anthropomorphize spacecraft…they don’t like it”.

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