Star Men

The heart-warming tale of four famous astronomers 50 years after they forged new understandings of the universe.

Star Men During the Space Race of the 1960's, four British astronomers travelled to California to work on some of the studies that have shaped our understanding of the universe and our place in it. Fifty years on, the four friends reunite for a final American road trip. As the likeable four friends explore major recent discoveries in astronomy together, this charming doc reflects upon the fleetingness of our lives played out beneath the stars.

With Mt Palomar's vast telescope dwarfing him, Wal Sargent reveals his apprehension as a young scientist. "I was worried the science I was doing wouldn't be good enough for such a grand machine". But after spending up to 10 hours a day observing, Wal made some of the most momentous discoveries in modern astronomy. It was here that Wal demonstrated how the relative abundance of helium in irregular blue galaxies confirmed the Big Bang Theory.

After 50 years, Donald, Roger, Nick, and Wal are reuniting in Pasadena, California, where their friendship first began. Each of the men went on to leave a significant mark on the field of astronomy. As they drive across America they are transported back to their youth, "we've come back to experience what it's like to be young again… sort of".

With great humour and charm the friends bicker and squabble their way around astronomy's most important sites, illuminating their own contributions and their wider significance. A lifetime spent looking at the stars has afforded these scientists perspective on humanity's place within the universe. The men recognise the triviality of our own lives, but also the transient importance of our existence in the development of the species.

As Donald and Roger hike the arduous route to Rainbow Bridge they reflect on their youth and their ailing physical strength. "When I was a student and I was late going for a train and I had to run for it. I can remember wondering whatever will I do when I'm 50 - I shall miss the train", now 76 Roger's age is finally catching up with him as he struggles along the canyon.

Star Men is both an informative history of astronomy, and a moving exploration of the human condition, told through the eyes of four extraordinary friends.

'Enormous charm and food for thought' - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
'Deceptively moving...profound tale of friendship' - The Times

Laurel Official Selection - Docs Against Gravity Film Festival 2016
Laurel Official Selection - Docville 2016
Laurel Official Selection - Cork Film Festival 2015
Laurel World Premiere - Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015
Laurel Opening Film - Cambridge Film Festival 2015
Laurel Official Selection - CPH DOX 2015
Laurel Official Selection - RIDM 2015

The Producers

Alison Rose is a director and writer whose filmmaking explores how people experience and make sense of the world – scientifically, ethically, and spiritually. Alison’s interest in astronomy began in childhood. She grew up in rural places under dark skies, they travelled a lot and her mother conveyed a sense of wonder and affection for the constant, star-filled skies. At 10 Alison began keeping binoculars on her windowsill to look at the stars at night. She was born the year the cosmic microwave background was identified, when humanity learned it was part of an evolving universe. Her lifetime has spanned the working lives of her four characters. Alison studied political science at Trinity College, the University of Toronto and began a career in journalism, moving from daily news to magazine writing and eventually documentary filmmaking. When she set out to make her first film the subject that captivated her was the Vatican astronomical observatory, staffed by Jesuit priests.

Making The Film

This film was born of my love of Star Trek and the space adventure stories I watched as a kid. These shows were about relationships, exploration, ethics and big ideas. I met the first of the subjects of this film, Nick Woolf making my first film Galileo’s Sons. I met Donald Lynden-Bell at a physics and philosophy conference in Poland. I asked Donald if he knew Nick, and Donald exclaimed: “know Nick Woolf? I’m planning a reunion with Nick. We’re going to take a road trip.” Donald told me about the 50th reunion he was planning with the men he’d spent a year with in California and I leapt at the chance to go with them. The road trip would be a real-life adventure with astrophysicists who’d spent their lifetime exploring the universe.

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