Welcome to the beta version of newint.org — we have just redesigned it — more features coming soon!
We care about your opinion. Let us know what you think, or report any problems. Feedback »

And finally... Toni Myers

Film
01.10.2016-toni-myers-590.jpeg

The Canadian documentary filmmaker is best known for her IMAX releases on space exploration, the latest of which is A Beautiful Planet. She talks to Cristiana Moisescu about training astronauts to shoot film and riding the Vomit Comet. © NG Images/Alamy Stock Photo

What drives you towards space exploration?

The space unit [the team behind A Beautiful Planet] grew out of the early days of IMAX, when it became apparent that the huge beautiful picture and the immersive quality of the experience was for taking people where they couldn’t normally go – to the bottom of the oceans, or the top of mountains. Space was a natural extension of that.

How does filming in space work?

The astronauts that we’re training to shoot in orbit are the most important part of the film. They are the filmmakers, not us. We do the finishing and the packaging, but we wouldn’t have these films without them. We train them for roughly 20 to 30 hours, over several months, how to operate the cameras and be directors – everything they need to learn to make a movie. And then we turn them loose in the simulators and say, ‘Go make your own home-movie now!’ They love the idea of making a movie; it’s a little less dry than the science they have to master and learn, so it is fun for them. We’re not allowed to interfere with their mission time up there, six days a week, so they do all this for us at weekends and at night.

Are there any differences to filming in space?

You need to test for the differences before you go – in the old days, when we were flying film cameras, we tested those cameras in a plane called the Vomit Comet. A graphic description, but very accurate! Now, the one unpredictable thing both in terms of film and digital is cosmic radiation, which is ever present, but in vastly varying quantities. So the film gets fogged and the chips on the digital camera get [dead] pixels.

Have you ever wanted to fly to space?

Totally. I’d be up for it; I’ve had dreams in which I was in zero gravity, floating around the [International] Space Station. During the making of the Space Station, I was allowed at the top of the Soyuz launch tower in Kazakhstan – this was the day before the launch. It was only 15 paces around the whole capsule and it felt so exposed. The thought of an uncontrolled explosion being lit underneath that tiny vehicle really gave me a new appreciation for the bravery of the people who were going up the next day.

Do you feel that space exploration and technology can eventually help to bring a solution to our climate-change woes?

I think that right now – and why I wanted to make this film – space travel certainly promotes an awareness that we live in a singular entity of a planet, that it is the only one we have and that everything outside it – well, you can’t survive in it. And that was one of the reasons to do the film, to draw a metaphor between the two systems, the space station being our mini-version of Earth in space, and [to show] how difficult it is to keep six people alive, to build a structure out there that sustains them. Earth is exactly the same, only for billions of people. Up there, they have to conserve their resources, their water, and carefully plan their food and their trash and all of those things; it’s like a mini-Earth. Only Earth doesn’t get any resupply ships.

What is your biggest fear?

My biggest fear would be not to be able to finish something, or to turn up at a writer’s meeting with no ideas: that’s the scariest thing – the writing part, the blank page. I just find it the most difficult thing, hands down.

A Beautiful Planet is released on DVD in October.

Cristiana Moisescu is a freelance journalist, currently living in London.