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Space Tourists

.

SPACE TOURISTS succeeds in surprising its audience with images and situations that have very little to do with the futuristic fantasy of “space tourism”. The filmmaker sets up encounters with the least likely people imaginable: places even stranger and more unknown than outer space itself.

With extra-ordinary access and truly first-time images the film investigates the emotional oscillations of an expensive enterprise and questions the meaning and boundaries of the human spirit and our hunger for adventure and discovery.


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Running Time: 58/95 min.
Subject(s): Ecology, Environment, Globalization, Technology
Language(s): Arabic, English
Director(s):
Producer(s): Christian Frei

Press

  • "Space Tourists is a very good documentary film. It covers the recent development of commercial space travel as well as the slowly decaying remains of the Cold War military monopoly on space.”
    SILVERDOCSBlog
    Matthew Radcliff
  • “Space Tourists just won the World Cinema Directing Award for Documentary. Completely deserved. Frei achieved a trust and insiders perspective in a field where access is extremely limited. I’m very happy for this engaging doc.”
    WORLDPRESS.COM
  • “Anousheh Ansaris footage on board the International Space Station is some of the most intimate, breathtaking imagery we will ever see from outer space.”
    THE HUFFINGTON POST
    Brad Balfour
  • “A likable, slightly melancholy ode to space travel past, present and future.”
    VARIETY
  • “The Best Director prize in the World Cinema Documentary section was given to Swiss documentarian Christian Frei for the crowd-pleaser SPACE TOURISTS.”
    CINEUROPA
    Sandy Mandelberger
  • “The documentary followes a group of metal salvagers on their journey to recover falling rocket stages that they fetch to sell the aluminum and titanium to China. This footage is so rare that it makes this movie a must-see for anyone in the space industry and anyone with an interest in cultural and historical impacts of space on small communities. Overall the movie had excellent contrasts between life on the ISS and workers in Kazakhstan and how in some cases they depend on each other in a strange symbiotic relationship. Another movie highlight was the old Russian space folk music used in the background that showed how deep into the culture space had once penetrated. The story did jump around a lot and perhaps stretched out too much in some parts, but getting to see such unique and rare footage was fantastic.”
    THE SPACE REVIEW
    Ryan L. Kobrick
  • “Filmmaker Christian Frei launches a down-to-earth glimpse into the race for space. Even us Baby Boomers who got advanced math shoved down our throats in the wake of Yuri Gagarin's trek aboard Sputnik, and couldn't care less about outer space, will be entertained by this spry, melancholy glimpse into the last half-century's race to space. "Space Tourists'" informative and engaging trajectory should land it on cable somewhere: History and Discovery come to mind as orbit platforms.

    If you've got $20 million set aside for your next vacation, you can sign up to hop aboard a Russian rocket and get lifted into the wild not-so-blue yonder. That's what dreamer Anousheh Ansari has shelled out for her lifelong dream vacation. In this wry and inspiring documentary, filmmaker Christian Frei concentrates on her trek to live her dream, from the rigors of the Russian space school located in Star City, somewhere on the dark side of Kazakhstan boondocks, to her eventual re-entry to the boondocks of Mother Earth.

    Told through the narration of a young Norwegian man attempting to connect with his Russian heritage, "Space Tourists" is alternately gloomy and balmy: In essence, it visualizes the failure of Communism. We see the ugly ruins of government apartments, which during the Khrushchev we-will-bury-you era, housed thousands of engineers and top scientists. It's now a ghost town, shut down by Gorbachev and creaking toward "Mad Max" ruination.

    With its nicely languid story loopings, including a team of scrap metal scavengers who retrieve the re-entry detritus for its precious titanium, "Space Tourists" is a multi-dimensional glimpse into dreams and obsessions. Filmmaker Frei smartly interweaves the pride that many felt because of the space program's accomplishments while visualizing its down-to-earth, economic failings.

    Cinematographer Peter Indergand's scopings are expressively accented by the fine editing of Frei and Andreas Winterstein: The images, glorious and crude, butt against each other -- evocative of this Quixotic quest. The film's spare musical score is also ascendant, courtesy of composers Jan Garbarek, Edward Artemyev and Steve Reich.”
    THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
    Duane Byrge
  • As always at Sundance, it's the documentaries that are the most consistently rewarding films on view, and some of the best come from veteran doc filmmakers whose work will be familiar to fans of the genre. Well worth mentioning is the singular "Space Tourists", an elegantly shot, almost surreal look at elements and offshoots of the Russian space program, including how $20 million got an American businesswoman shot into space.

    “Frei is a famously patient filmmaker. Shooting Space Tourists was initially “a nightmare.” He faced a tough battle to win permission to shoot in Kazakhstan and to convince the authorities to allow him to do more than just shoot at press conferences.

    The documentary juxtaposes breathtakingly beautiful imagery of space with down-to-earth, surreal footage of Kazakh farms and scrap-metal collectors, who use the metal detritus from the rockets as makeshift cooking pans or sell the precious metal to the Chinese. The farmers even manage to fashion farming implements from the space ship debris.”
    LOS ANGELES TIMES
    Geoffrey Macnab

Festival & Awards

  • Sundance Film Festival, USA - 2010
    World Cinema Documentary Directing Award
  • Eurodok Festival, Norway - 2010
    Eurodok Award
  • Beldocs International Documentary Film Festival, Serbia - 2010
    Best Photography Award
  • International Documentary Film Festival Zagrebdocs, Croatia - 2010
  • “Kino Pavasaris“ Vilnius International Film Festival, Lithuania - 2010
  • International Istanbul Film Festival, Turkey - 2010
  • Irish Film Institute Documentary Film Festival, Ireland - 2010
  • Florida Film Festival, USA - 2010
  • OXDOX International Film Festival, England - 2010
  • London International Documentary Festival, England - 2010
  • Hot Docs, Canada - 2010
  • DOCVILLE, Belgium - 2010
  • TRT International Documentary Film Competition - 2010
  • DocAviv, Israel - 2010
  • Planete Doc Review, Poland - 2010
  • DOK.FEST München, Germany - 2010
  • Documenta, Spain - 2010
  • Festival of European Co-productions, Bulgaria - 2010
  • FICMA International Environmental Film Festival, Spain - 2010
  • Sydney Film Festival, Australia - 2010
  • Biografilm Festival, Italy - 2010
  • Ecofilms, Greece - 2010
  • AFI / Silverdocs, USA - 2010
  • Los Angeles Film Festival, USA - 2010
  • New Zealand Film Festival - 2010
  • Melbourne International Film Festival, Australia - 2010
  • DokuFest Prizren, Kosovo - 2010
  • Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal, Canada - 2010
  • International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, Netherlands - 2009
  • Zurich Film Festival, Switzerland - 2009

additional materials

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  • SELL-OUT ON THE FINAL FRONTIER - BY NICK RODDICK

    Forty years on from Neil Armstrong’s ‘one small step for man’, we are still waiting for the ‘giant leap for mankind’. Space travel, once the most fiercely contested race of the cold war era, has slowed to a crawl. Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Swiss documentarian Christian Frei (“War Photographer”, “The Giant Buddhas”) takes a laconic, humorous look at the way billionaires depart our planet earth to travel into outer space for fun. Focusing on four main stories, Frei’s film travels to three far-flung corners of the world – and soars 250 miles above it. Norwegian-born Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen introduces us to the bizarre poetry of the abandoned Kazakh city of Baikonur, the main launch site for the Soviet space programme. Once home to 100,000 people with even its children’s playgrounds space-themed, Baikonur maintains a skeletal staff and enough facilities to carry out a launch – when there is the money to pay for it. Enter Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist. Ansari is an Iranian-born American millionaire who dreamed as a child of going into space, and now has the funds to make her dream a reality. We follow her through training, launch, orbit (where she experiences days of accelerated sunrise and sunset, the zero-gravity toilet and the problems of washing your hair in a weightless environment), right up to her return to earth, where she is handed a bunch of red roses and bites into a fresh, juicy apple. Meanwhile, a few hundred miles north from where Anousheh blasts off, a ragtag band of scrap-metal merchants set off in their trucks for the spot where the first stage of the rocket will fall back to earth, providing rich pickings from its valuable metals. These will eventually be sold to China, where they are likely to be converted into aluminium foil of the kind used to wrap sandwiches. The scrap dealers enthusiastically agree that nothing is quite like beshbarmak (Kazakh lamb stew) cooked in the open air – especially when the cooking pot is a retrieved rocket part. And several hundred miles further north again, where the next stage of the rocket falls into a more populous area, farmers use the junk to mend houses and make tools, oblivious to the potential chemical hazards. Next, thousands of miles away in Romania, we meet Dumitru Popescu, a participant in an initiative set up by Ansari (and subsequently backed by Google) to reward the first private individual to send a vehicle to the moon. A low-tech scheme even by Baikonur standards, Popescu’s idea – helped on by screwdriver and hammer – is to float his prototype up into the stratosphere on a giant Montgolfier balloon before igniting the rocket. Inflation of the balloon goes according to plan. But that’s about as far as it goes. “At least it’s flying somewhere,” mutters Popescu, as his precious rocket bounces toward the Black Sea, still convinced what he is doing is anchored in the development of a modern business plan, not the fulfilment of a childhood dream. Meanwhile, back in mother Russia, another wealthy space tourist – Charles Simonyi, Chief Architect of Microsoft’s Word and Excel programmes – bicycles through the still heavily guarded ‘Star City’, where Soviet cosmonauts once trained. For Simonyi, preparation for the dream is a matter of physical tests, training and space-menu sampling. The space-kitchen staff, direct descendants of the floor ladies who used to control Soviet-era hotels, sternly ply Simonyi with a variety of tinned foods, duly noting his opinion of ‘Perch in Jelly’, ‘Pork with Buckwheat’, ‘Zucchini Caviar’… Frei’s skill as an observer obviates the need for verbal commentary or even insistent editing. Like all good documentarians, he gets reality to do his job for him. The wonderfully do-it-yourself nature of Dumitru Popescu’s rocket, ingenious in its design but clumsy in its construction, is embodied in the shot of a tag-along dog sleeping comfortably in its shade. The fascinating ordinariness of the Russian space programme has none of the carefully choreographed drama that we are familiar with from the Americans at the Kennedy Space Center.The Soyuz-Rocket trundles to its launch-pad towed by en elderly locomotive amid minimum security. Ansari rides up the gantry in an industrial elevator. Then, as we observe the Russian rocket exuding clouds of liquid oxygen in the middle of what appears to be an empty steppe, a voice simply asks ‘Ready?’, like a parent about to let go of a child riding a two-wheeler for the first time without stabilisers. In the end, the everyday takes over from the aspirational, with man’s journey beyond the final frontier becoming just another border for tourists to cross in search of something new, while a shepherd uses part of a space rocket that fell from the sky to complete his humble yurt. The film opens with a quote from Arseny Tarkovsky (father of the film-maker), which sums up how Russians once felt as they stood at the threshold of space: ‘Here I am at the centre of the world. Behind me myriads of protozoa, before me myriads of stars’. The same lines, again inviting awe, are repeated in the middle. But the concluding part of the quote does not come until the end credits, bringing the heroic back to a more human scale: ‘A little butterfly, a thread of golden silk, laughs at me like a little child’. Nick Roddick

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