On Screen In Person’s Final Film Was a BLAST!

BLAST!, the final installment of this year’s On Screen In Per­son program, was screened on Monday, April 9 in Wilson Audi­torium. On Screen, In Person is a traveling film series along the East Coast that screens films and allows the audience to engage the director in Q&A sessions afterwards.

Used here, BLAST is an acro­nym that means Balloon-borne Large Aperture Submillimeter Telescope. The film focused on a team of scientists that developed the device, showing the emotional strain and all-too-real problems with scientific innovation.

The screening was hosted by Andrew Demirjian, specialist pro­fessor of communication. He felt such films, which showcase the science as well as the scientist, are great in general, but was quite im­pressed by director Paul Devlin. “I think the director did a great job at introducing detail, holding interest and creating tension. As a young filmmaker, it is so im­portant to learn to do that,” said Demirjian. He is excited about showing the film to his documen­tary film class.

BLAST! focused on Devlin’s as­trophysicist brother, Doctor Mark Devlin, who, with a team of gradu­ate students, set out to photograph the formation of new stars and galaxies throughout the universe. While most scientific documenta­ries would spend the majority of time describing the inspiration and mechanics behind the project, the director wanted a film that show­cased the hu­manity of those involved.

The film starts off with a bang, show­ing a balloon launching in Antarctica. The viewer doesn’t know much about the mon­ey or energy put into the device, but it looks big and expensive (not to mention the fact that the team is in one of the coldest locations on Earth, a situa­tion that could draw sympa­thy without the massive telescope project). At the last moment, the device gets caught in the launching apparatus, crashing back into place.

The movie moves back 18 months to the test launch in Swe­den. The team briefly discusses the sensitivity of the equipment and the need for perfection in the launch conditions. Submilli­meter light refers to light rays so miniscule that they would not be able to penetrate our atmosphere, eliminating any chance of see­ing the formation of stars. In fact, even dust in the vacuum of space would make it impossible to detect this light, because the rays are too small to pass any molecular bar­rier. In other words, this light can only exist in a complete vacuum.

The Sweden launch was nearly a disaster because inclement weather delayed deployment. There was a very small window of time during which the telescope would be able to take pictures beyond our galaxy because of migrant dust clouds that would soon obscure their view of the void. Luckily, the launch was successful; hours after the balloon launched, the team realized that the lens was not properly focused, meaning their results were useless.

BLAST! remained intense, show­ing the growing strain upon the scientists, especially Dr. Devlin, who was forced to spend months at a time away from his family, which consisted of his wife and two young sons. Footage showed events back at Dr. Devlin’s home, adding to the stress as the doc­tor’s son hangs up on him, fed up with never being able to see his fa­ther.

However, fam­ily strain was not the only personal topic shown in the movie. Though taboo, religion was also dis­cussed. The reli­gious members of the project held no opposition to the project and never clashed with the n o n – r e l i g i o u s members. Ev­eryone was very respectful of the others’ opinions, if not for the sake of simply being respectful, than out of understand­ing of their common goal and aes­thetic appreciation of outer space.

The music was very appropri­ate; it was subtle and strong but never overpowered the scientists themselves. It had a natural feel­ing of mystique, utilizing a variety of lofty notes and soft instruments during the ambient scenes and sharp notes with a heavy overtone during the dramatic moments.

The mood was built entirely by focusing on the relentless pas­sion with which the scientists ap­proached their work. Every pit­fall and triumph brought such a ripple of pain or joy to the men and women involved that the audi­ence couldn’t help but empathize. Whether the team was in the midst of a crisis or at a bar, viewers were there with them.

The director was surprisingly pleased by the events of the film. “What happened was naturally dramatic, so that was very helpful,” Devlin joked during the post-mov­ie question and answer session. He added that documentary making could be difficult because “you are confined by what happened.”

For example, he had placed two cameras on the telescope that launched in Antarctica, but those cameras were lost. “They’re still out on the ice somewhere,” said Devlin.

BLAST! is not just for those who like documentary, but also people you are majoring in science and interested in astrophysics. The movies chosen by the On Screen, In Person program are treats for any person of any demographic. Daniel Gordon, a youth who’s father works at the University, agreed. “It taught me more about what astrophysicists do. [This pro­gram] is opening up my eyes,” said Gordon.

“I think [this] series is such a great way to learn about so many different aspects of film making… and for our students to be able to ask the director anything they want is just great,” Demirjian comment­ed.

Without a doubt, BLAST! w as a great way to simultaneously ex­pose the audience to new ideas while keeping them entertained. Be on the lookout for next year’s movie series. If it’s anything like this past series, it’ll be sure to blow you away.

IMAGE TAKEN from blasterexperiment.info