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June 8 – August 3, 2019

Moon Movies: Apollo 11 at 50

In collaboration with Houghton Library’s celebration of the moon landing’s 50th anniversary, the Harvard Film Archive presents films about humans’ exploration of that final frontier, including The Right Stuff, Philip Kaufman’s detailed portrait of the earliest astronauts’ personal and public lives, and Fritz Lang’s silent Woman in the Moon, which features surprisingly prescient technical details and is credited with inventing the backward countdown. The HFA’s Weekend Matinees are also folded into this series and feature moon-themed films appropriate for space travelers of all ages.

The screenings on June 8 and July 20 will be preceded by a tour of Small Steps, Giant Leaps: Apollo 11 at Fifty (April 29 - August 3) with exhibition curator John Overholt. Free and open to the public.

Co-presented by Houghton Library with support from the Goethe Institut, Boston. 

Special thanks: Anne-Marie Eze—Houghton Library; Marina May and Karin Öhlenschlaeger—Goethe Institut; Gabrielle Ruffle—Aardman Animations; Lobster Films; Groupama Gan Foundation; Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage; Blackhawk Films; Flicker Alley and Steve Boot.

Film descriptions by Brittany Gravely, Karin Kolb and David Pendleton.




Preceded by Houghton Tour at 2pm
$5 Weekend Matinee Admission or Free with Cambridge Public Library Card

Saturday June 8 at 3pm

A Trip to the Moon
(Le Voyage dans la lune)

Directed by Georges Méliès. With Georges Méliès, François Lallement, Jules-Eugène Legris
France 1902, 35mm, color, silent, 15 min. Live Musical Accompaniment

Inspired by two Jules Verne novels—From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and Around the Moon (1870)—Georges Méliès made what is considered one of the first science fiction films 117 years ago, and it continues to delight and fascinate. Detailing the fantastic adventures of a group of astronomers on their cannon-propelled rocket trip to the moon, the film was originally released in both black-and-white and hand-painted color versions. The latter was considered lost until a single print was discovered in 1993. Its painstaking and careful restoration recently completed, modern audiences can now experience the wonders of Méliès’ classic vision anew. Print courtesy Lobster Films, Groupama Gan Foundation, Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, Blackhawk Films and Flicker Alley.


A Grand Day Out

Directed by Nick Park. With Peter Sallis, Peter Hawkins
UK 1989, DCP, color, 23 min

What to do when you run out of cheese and your corner store is closed due to a National Holiday? Very simple: build a rocket, fly to the moon and have a cheese picnic there. After all, “everybody knows the moon is made of cheese…” Nick Park’s graduation film at the National Film and Television School marks the first Wallace and Gromit adventure. The six years it took to make this stop-motion claymation short paid off with an Oscar nomination in 1990. Though it lost, the winner was the director’s other nominated short, Creature Comforts.


Once Upon a Blue Moon

Directed by Steve Boot
UK 2015, digital video, color, 4 min

An alien is excited about the possibility of friendship when a robot lands on his lonely sphere in this charming stop-motion moon adventure.






America's First Spaceport

US 1967, 16mm, b/w, 15 min

This Screen News Digest focuses on the construction of America’s First Spaceport—now the Kennedy Space Center in Florida—and gives an exclusive tour of the new launch complex that will later send Apollo 11 to the moon.


Maximum Boost (Schub auf Maximum)

Directed by Rolf Hellat. With Sonja Wäckerle, Remo Ernst
UK 2015, digital video, color, 4 min

Remo and his hearing-impaired grandmother try to blast off to the moon from a rainy Swiss playground. The director’s inventive use of sound—incorporating the original audio from the Apollo 11 space mission—enables the unassuming astronauts to reach their exotic destination. Or do they?


One Small Step

Directed by Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas
US/China 2018, digital video, color, 8 min

Though a woman has yet to visit the moon, Luna, a young Chinese American girl, wants to become an astronaut no matter what. Facing all kinds of ups and downs in the relentless pursuit of her dream, she always has her father’s love and support—even after he is gone. DCP courtesy Taiko Studios.



TRT: 70 min

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$5 Weekend Matinee Admission or Free with Cambridge Public Library Card
Saturday June 29 at 3pm

Hidden Figures

Directed by Theodore Melfi. With Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe
US 2016, DCP, color & b/w, 127 min

Based on the true story told in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same title, Theodore Melfi’s film focuses on the early “computers” at NASA’s Langley Research Center, in this case humans working on mathematical orbit calculations. Most of these mathematicians were women and many were also black—hired after race-based discrimination was outlawed during the World War II worker shortage—including the three geniuses featured in the film: Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a math wunderkind; Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), who dreams of being an engineer; and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), an unofficial supervisor who has been denied that very promotion. The film jumps to the heightened drama of 1961, when NASA is working overtime to figure out how to make it possible for the first American to orbit the Earth while their new IBM machine produces some questionable data. Even as they worked meticulously and invisibly for their country, the women depicted here were also engaged in the daily struggle of being female and black in the era of Jim Crow. An eye-opening complement to the celebrated heroics of The Right Stuff, Hidden Figures exposes what history has hidden for so long, restoring the humanity and complexity to a one-sided story. The film expertly embeds the women’s compelling challenges, successes and equally inspirational support of one another within the tension and thrill of the space race, which NASA finally “won” with the 1969 moon landing thanks to essential contributions from these remarkable computers.

Age recommendation: 9+


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Preceded by Houghton Tour at 4:30pm
Saturday July 20 at 5:30pm

The Right Stuff

Directed by Philip Kaufman. With Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris
US 1983, DCP, color & b/w, 193 min

Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s bestselling book remains an exciting, accomplished piece of filmmaking and a fascinating specimen of Americana. In compiling a team of physically and mentally fit daredevils who weren’t too unmanageable, the US government was also crafting the ideal American heroes: rugged, rough-around-the-edges, independent men who were ultimately team players as anxious as their superiors to beat the Russians in the race to outer space. Bolstered by Caleb Deschanel’s beautiful cinematography and Jordan Belson’s realistic special effects, the remarkable ensemble character-actor cast—whose careers the film also helped launch into orbit—forms the convincing heart of The Right Stuff. By focusing on five of the Mercury Seven, the film delves just deep enough into both their personal and suddenly very public lives, while acknowledging the emotional toll taken on their wives during these extraordinarily high-risk missions into the unknown. This thrilling portrait of the first astronauts also features surprising details and asides, such as the role the press and individual astronauts had in influencing protocol and operations. NASA’s team of headstrong, competitive men whose nation is—at times recklessly—engaged in fierce global competition stands in elucidating contrast to the recent black hole event involving the collaboration of diverse teams of scientists from around the world.

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Live Musical Accompaniment by Robert Humphreville
Saturday August 3 at 7pm

Woman in the Moon
(Frau im Mond)

Directed by Fritz Lang. With Willy Fritsch, Gerda Maurus, Gustav von Wangenheim
Germany 1929, DCP, b/w, silent, 168 min

If Metropolis represents speculative science fiction, Woman in the Moon finds Lang with screenwriter (and wife) Thea von Harbou returning to the genre with a dramatic emphasis now upon the science. Lang’s last silent film presents the tale of the first rocket to the moon with a sincere realism and a woman essentially at the helm. Retrospectively, a few details—the multistage launch, the weightlessness, sunrise from space—were prescient, if not actually pioneering, as in the case of Lang’s apparent invention of the backward countdown. Although there is a plot involving a romantic triangle and a cabal of sinister capitalists, it is clearly the machinery that attracts Lang’s attention, as well as the science and morality behind it. Called Lang’s most abstract film, it retains some fatalistic and fantastic detours, yet with an atmosphere much cooler, and at times, chilling; the celebrated rocket launch sequence predicts the mass-as-machine imagery of Triumph of the Will. DCP courtesy Murnau Stiftung.

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