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The Strange Tale of Biosphere 2 Gets a Fitting Showcase in Spaceship Earth

by Ace Damon
The Strange Tale of Biosphere 2 Gets a Fitting Showcase in Spaceship Earth

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Two years ago, documentary filmmaker Matt Wolf was eavesdropping on the Internet when he came across an impressive image of eight people in red overalls in front of a glass pyramid. "I thought it was a still image from a sci-fi movie," he said. "Then I realized it was real."

Wolf and I were at the bottom of an ice cream parlor in Park City, Utah – a plastic cow with a cowboy hat just inches away – discussing their new film, Spaceship Earth. Finished in time for Sundance, it is a fascinating portrait of a counterculture theater group from the late 1960s that somehow ended up in the Arizona desert, leading the $ 200 million scientific research facility Biosphere 2.

The Biosphere 2 experiment documented on the Spaceship Earth lasted from 1991 to 1993. Eight individuals in different scientific practices entered a huge closed ecosystem, destined to replicate all the diversity of the Earth – also known as. Biosphere 1 – then sealed the doors behind them. The idea was for both to lead experiments and be the experiment, both in a medical and sociological way. The goals were simultaneously altruistic ("one day we need to colonize Mars if we really mess up our environment") and also profit oriented ("we can sell whatever proprietary technologies we find").

Biosphere 2 has become a tourist attraction and a highlight in the evening news; as a result, there were, to say the least, unforeseen complications. Then came an end of a twist involving bad faith business practices and a young banker who became one of the most notorious villains of the 21st century. (No spoilers, but you can search Google!)

Spaceship Earth is the fourth feature of Wolf, a man in his 30s, based in San Jose, based in New York and a companion to Guggenheim. In 2019, he launched the Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, the remarkable story of a woman who has obsessively recorded television for decades – accumulating a unique library while simultaneously ruining her own life. Before that came Teenage, based on the book by Jon Savage on the origin of the 20th century concept of adolescence, and Wild Combination, a moving portrait of the musician Arthur Russell, whose work was rediscovered long after his death from AIDS in 1992. a series of short films, including It & # 39; s Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise, starring Lena Dunham and the favorite little girl at the Plaza Hotel, as well as a participation as a film co-curator for the 2019 Whitney Biennial.

Their subjects seem at first to have little in common with each other. "I am interested in visionary figures from outside who beg for reassessment," he said when pressed for a recurring theme. He called them hidden stories. Each time he uses a similar method: separating material from a huge file, often never played before. His ideas are often born out of the discovery of something strange on the internet.

Wolf was just a kid when the first Biosphere 2 experiment was launched – although, like all of us, he remembers Pauly Shore's Bio-Dome. However, the second he learned the story, he was "absolutely determined to make the film". When the living “biospheres” received him and opened his huge archive of 16 mm films and Hi8 video, he recognized the urgency of getting this story, with its late environmentalist and capitalist implications, now.

Despite initially being dazzled by the theatrical appearance of Biosphere 2, Wolf does not consider himself "a science fiction guy". He was a shy boy, he told me, and until the age of 20, his friends were always older. At the age of 16, he responded to an advertisement at a gay youth center in San Francisco and ended up as the “young intern trainee”, working on a documentary about Harry Hay – the gay activist who founded the Mattachine Society and, very keen on the job Wolf, the countercultural, anarchic and spiritual group called the radical fairies.

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