MIFF 2010 review: Space Tourists

30 Jul
The desert landscape of Kazakhstan makes a compelling setting for this documentary that explores the personal aspect of Russia’s legacy to the Space Age program.  Anoushen Hansari fulfils her childhood dream to travel into space and becomes the first female space tourist. She  forked out a staggering $20 million to do so, and while  this fact alone may make her slightly unlikable, she is in fact a smart business woman and engineer whose family went on to fund the Ansari X Prize. There is something remarkable about seeing this woman live out a childhood fantasy that so many of us share at some point of our lives.
From cold and silent space she looks down on earth and sees a world without borders, where there’s no trouble –  only peace.
Back on planet earth,  narrator Jonas Bendriksen is busy snapping photos of the eerie Kazakhstan desert with his fancy camera. When he’s not doing that he’s shrouding the screen with his handsome face in on – screen interviews. A Magnum photographer, he has spent years documenting the rusted legacy of the Russian Space program in evocative pictures.
Along the way there’s salt of the earth workers who do overnight campout missions when rockets are launched, on the chase to find the next burning rocket part that’s falling from the sky. They’re quite valuable, being made of high class metals, and are sold on to China for a good amount of money. So, as Bendriksen says, “in a global world you might be wrapping your sandwich in al foil made from a space rocket!”
We meet Charles Simonyi, the architect of Word and Excel, and witness his training and preparation at Star City to become the world’s fifth private space tourist. There’s a great scene where he’s in this tiny little kitchen at the Space school, surrounded by prospective tins of food being handed to him by the doting women who prepare all the food that’s consumed on board. He sits, alternately nodding and grimacing, giving each dish a careful score out of 10. Goulash? Jellied Perch? Caviar? “I’ll give that an 8”.
And we meet the local farmers, villagers, and workers at the International Space Station,  for whom the Space Program is a portal to the stars they will never  be able to afford to travel through.
Accompanied by a sonorous sexy sax soundtrack by Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek (Steve Reich also appears on the music credits), Space Tourists has much to offer. It will appeal to a broad audience and is certainly not just for those who have nasa.gov bookmarked on their computer.
***1/2
Space Tourists’ final screening at MIFF is 12.15pm Saturday July 31.
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