How did a group of San Francisco artists and intellectuals wind up recreating the Earth’s ecosystem in a giant dome in the middle of the Arizona desert? Matt Wolf’s documentary Spaceship Earth explores the history, activity and legacy of the world’s first biosphere experiment.
The brainchild of polymath John Allen, Biosphere 2 was designed to test the potential of supporting human life in outer space. A worldwide sensation in 1991, the experiment is documented in loving detail through the first-hand accounts of the free-thinking scientists and the “biospherians” themselves, who spent two years inside a system of vegetation, oceans and animal life. It sounds crazy, but their stories are so inspiring that one ends up wishing one could have joined them.
The contributors are engaging and good-humoured, many of them part of a 1960s San Francisco collective who wanted to change the world but had no real idea what to do – except for everything. Supplementing the ample news footage from the experiment itself, these explorers provide incredible 16mm footage from their many adventures (including the maiden voyage of a boat they built themselves), which would be worthy of a documentary even without the groundbreaking biosphere project.
Spaceship Earth is endlessly fascinating and remarkably timely – not just for the familiarity of feeling stuck in the same place for months on end, but for spotlighting the environmental pioneers who sought solutions to climate change back in the 1970s. Beyond the film’s scientific imperative, Wolf covers the social side of the project, its artistic ties to sci-fi works like Silent Running, and the response of a news media desperate to turn the experiment into a reality show, a purported hippie cult led by the delusional Allen. The documentary stops short of sealing off these questions, letting them breathe like plant life in a rainforest dome.
Full of warmth, wonder and surprises, this is an insightful and inspiring documentary – a tribute to human imagination and environmental awareness, and to what hippies can achieve without drugs.
Spaceship Earth is released digitally on demand on 10th July 2020.
Watch the trailer for Spaceship Earth here: