Who: David Teague, Marley Mcdonald, Brian Becker
What: Zoom Q&A about Spaceship Earth
Where: Maysles Documentary Center website
When: Saturday, May 16, free, 4:00
Why: Big Brother meets Silent Running and The Martian in Spaceship Earth, Matt Wolf’s new documentary that takes on new meaning in the age of coronavirus. Currently, most of America is sheltering in place, stuck in their homes. In Spaceship Earth, which is streaming on the Maysles Documentary Center website, Hulu, and other online platforms, Wolf (Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project) takes us behind the scenes of the development of Biosphere 2, the 1991 project that was supposed to be all about sustainability and biodiversity, with a crew of eight planning on living within the large dome in Oracle, Arizona, for two years, in a kind of self-imposed lockdown or quarantine. Wolf goes back to the beginning, to an avant-garde theater troupe that eventually morphed into a group of unique individuals determined to save the planet, under the leadership of ecologist, writer, activist, and engineer John “Johnny Dolphin” Allen, who founded the hippie Theater of All Possibilities in San Francisco, and moneyman Ed Bass, whose family was in the Texas oil business.
In new interviews and archival footage, Wolf introduces us to Allen, Margret “Firefly” Augustine, William “Freddy” Dempster, Marie “Flash” Harding, Mark Nelson, Kathelin Gray, Tony Burgess, Kathy Dyhr, and others who were involved in the project, which had some cultlike elements, in addition to the eight men and women who became biospherians (Jane Poynter, Taber MacCallum, Abigail Alling, Bernd Zabe, Linda Leigh, Mark Van Thillo, Roy Walford, and Sally Silverstone). Among the major influences were William S. Burroughs, R. Buckminster Fuller, and the Whole Earth Catalog. And just wait till you see Stephen Bannon enter the picture.
Perhaps what’s most fascinating about Spaceship Earth is how far away 1991 seems, and how little we have learned since then. The film will continue streaming at the Maysles site through May 22; on May 16 at 4:00, there will be a live Zoom Q&A with editor David Teague, associate editor Marley Mcdonald, and archival/story producer Brian Becker.