Imagine being stuck in an enclosed space, unable to leave for a long period of time. Oh right, that’s happening for everyone right now. But for the eight members of the Biosphere 2 project, they were locked into a structure for two years for an experiment in closed systems. The hope for Biosphere 2 was that it would serve as a model for human residence on the Moon and Mars. The reality was it failed as a scientific study and even disappointed as a kind of performance art project.
The story of Biosphere 2 is now chronicled in the documentary Spaceship Earth, which will be released through an innovative strategy by Neon on May 8th. Hopefully, the distributor’s novel endeavor is more successful than that of the film’s subject. And maintains a greater level of safety for all involved. That’s important because while the Biosphereans dealt with CO2 level issues, we’re all currently dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and avoiding theatrical movie exhibition, for the most part.
Neon reminds us that they’ve never put out a movie without theatrical support, and this will be no different. Spaceship Earth will play on drive-in screens but also — and here’s one of the innovative ideas — “select pop-up city-scape projections (safely accessible by quarantined city dwellers).” The latter isn’t exactly theatrical distribution, but it’s a way of seeing the movie projected large and communally. I’m not sure exactly how the idea will work, either in terms of the audio or in terms of making sure viewers are safely separated, but I’m sure Neon has it all figured out.
Especially since Spaceship Earth isn’t the only film the distributor is putting out with such a unique release strategy, which also includes original ideas for home viewing. Spaceship Earth, fellow Sundance doc The Painter and the Thief, and the narrative feature She Dies Tomorrow, which was supposed to premiere at SXSW last month, are all receiving fresh release plans via Neon and their international sales partner, Charades. Domestically, the films will hit digital platforms and will also be accessible through the websites of movie theaters, museums, film festivals, bookstores, and restaurants in order to support their businesses in their time of need.
I’ve already seen two of the three films included in this venture, with The Painter and the Thief being my favorite documentary of the year so far. Directed by Benjamin Ree, the film follows artist Barbora Kysilkova as she befriends one of the junkies who stole two massive paintings of hers. Neither of the works has been recovered, and the man has no memory of the incident or what became of the pieces, so part of Kysilkova’s reasoning for the relationship is, in part, investigatory. It’s a complex and curious story.
Spaceship Earth also shares a fascinating tale, one about a project that intrigued me as a young science enthusiast growing up in the 1980s. By the time Biosphere 2 had gone from phenomenon to disaster — best labeled “The Wrong Stuff,” as a play put on by its participants foreshadowing its failure was titled — my interest had waned. Most of the world would later associate the idea with the dumb comedy that spoofed its concept, Bio-Dome. So, Matt Wolf‘s doc showing the whole story is really appreciated.
She Dies Tomorrow is the sophomore feature by actress turned filmmaker Amy Seimetz (Sun Don’t Shine) and reunites the writer/director with performers Kate Lynn Sheil and Kentucker Audley among an ensemble that also includes Jane Adams, Chris Messina, Michelle Rodriguez, Josh Lucas, and Katie Aselton. Like Spaceship Earth, it’s a film that will seem timelier than intended because the plot concerns a contagious feeling of dread that begins with Sheil’s character believing she’s about to die.
All three of these movies have been positively reviewed by critics, and it’s not surprising that Neon’s upcoming slate is filled with quality releases given the particularly strong year they had in 2019, putting out the best and most successful documentaries (Apollo 11, The Biggest Little Farm, Honeyland) and the Best Picture of the year (according to the Academy and, more importantly, us), Parasite. I can’t say if these new films will or would have been as popular in normal release (I don’t believe so), but they’re each worth checking out in whichever manner you can.
As I’ve already mentioned, Spaceship Earth will be out on May 8th. Neither The Painter and the Thief nor She Dies Tomorrow have announced a release date yet.