Friday, July 22, 2011

Review for "Nostalgia for the Light"

by Salman Hameed

"Nostalgia for the Light" is small but wonderful documentary film. I had a chance to introduce it at Amherst Cinema last month and it was a pleasure to see it on the big screen. It is hard to describe it in a few words, but it captures an essence of what makes us human. It is set in Atacama Desert of northern Chile, but the story will resonate with people from different cultures and different places.

I now have a review of the film in this week's Science. I have an excerpt and the link below. In addition, here is my conversation about the film (and other astronomy-related things) on the Bill Newman Show on WHMP (AM1400, FM96.9) - second half of the podcast.

Here is the beginning of my review for the film: 
Searchers in a Desert
In 1990, the camera of Voyager 1 turned toward Earth to take one last picture of its home planet. By then, the spacecraft had traveled 4 billion miles from Earth—a vast distance by human standards but puny on a cosmic scale. Earth appeared as a dot, captured on a single pixel of the camera. This image, dubbed the pale blue dot, inspired Carl Sagan to write: “Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot” (1).
Dictator Augusto Pinochet of Chile was one such general. During his 17-year reign, he was responsible for the torture and killing of thousands of political prisoners, many of whose bodies were dumped in the vast Atacama desert. Patricio Guzmán's gorgeous documentary Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia for the Light) brings together the cosmic perspective of the pale blue dot with the pain of those who sift through the desert sands to find remains of Pinochet's victims, without diminishing the importance of either.
The Atacama, the world's driest place, lies at the center of the film. Its arid climate and clear skies have drawn astronomers from around the world. Over the past four decades, state-of-the-art telescopes have bloomed in the desert, helping these astronomers to scan the universe's outer reaches and piece together its history.
Similarly, the desert's dry climate has allowed archaeologists to study pre-Columbian drawings and recover startlingly well-preserved thousand-year-old mummies. The Atacama also harbors the remains of laborers from brutal 19th-century silver and saltpeter mines as well as the bodies of Pinochet's political prisoners. The Pinochet regime may have ended in 1990, but some women are still searching for the remains of their loved ones who “disappeared.” Just like the astronomers, these women are also working in the Atacama desert to uncover the past—some of them in the shadows of the great observatories.
Visually stunning, Nostalgia for the Light manages to capture the desolation of the desert and the beauty of the Milky Way passing through the Chilean sky. The shots of abandoned mining villages are chilling; the contrast with futuristic-looking observatory domes, jarring. The past and the future of Chile collide in the Atacama. At one point, there is a wonderful scene of a train piercing the vast landscape, perhaps announcing the arrival of modernity—both for good and for bad.
Read the full review here

Here is the trailer for the film: 

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