Showroom Cinema with Mikaela Smith

Fifty years since the historic Apollo 11 mission that landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon, a new documentary has been produced, featuring stunning never-before-seen footage of the historic event.

Monday, 3rd June 2019, 1:38 pm
Updated Wednesday, 26th June 2019, 3:22 pm
Apollo 11

In recent years, Hollywood has produced a solid assortment of space films with ground-breaking, awe-inspiring, vertigo-inducing special effects. These films, like Damien Chazelle’s 2019 VFX Oscar winner First Man, are commended for their innovative ways of creating stunning cinematic experiences that look so real, you feel as though you’re there. This documentary, simply titled Apollo 11, is ground-breaking in its use of modern technology for another reason.

When it comes to the moon landing, most feel well-acquainted with archive footage from that day.

After all, it was arguably the biggest television event of the 20th century, but hiding in the archives for five decades, a treasure trove of footage was waiting to be discovered.

Todd Douglas Miller – Apollo 11’s director – was approached in 2016 by the vice president of CNN Films, who was looking for a way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Miller wanted to create a film using entirely found footage, and he lucked out, NARA (the National Archives and Records Administration) unearthed more than 50 film reels of the Apollo 11 mission.

These reels however, had been filmed using a particular film format that is largely outdated, and couldn’t be projected, let alone digitised by the archivists – Miller worked alongside a postproduction house to build custom hardware and software that could digitize each film reel, rescuing bold, colourful, cinema-quality footage from the archives and immortalising it in stunning 8K.

Digitizing hours of 65mm archive footage was only the first hurdle faced by Miller and his team, his next plight, was resolved by an archivist based here in Sheffield, Stephen Slater. Slater owns the largest collection of Apollo video and audio footage outside of NASA, and has spent tireless hours synching 16mm film clips with snippets of audio recordings.

This has been Slater’s passion project for years, and he was the obvious choice to be brought in for the documentary. Slater’s challenge here, was to trawl through over 11,000 hours of audio, and try to pair it with the newly digitised footage, hunting out visual clues, like clock faces in mission control, to help with the mammoth task.

The project took almost three years to complete, but the result is breath-taking. A completely fresh take on a colossal event, with no interviews and no narration you are guided through the incredible process first-hand, by the soothing voices in mission control. Apollo 11 is released in cinemas this Friday.