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A Time Capsule of the Moon Landing

Jul 16, 2019 | 831 videos
Video by Jonathan Napolitano

“It was a feeling that went throughout the world, almost like an electric bolt,” one woman remembers of the Apollo 11 moon landing, in Jonathan Napolitano’s short documentary Landing on Airwaves. The lunar landing, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on July 20, is collectively remembered in the film by a handful of the 530 million people who watched the event live on national television in 1969.

Among the personal accounts is that of Clark Neily, an orbital-rendezvous training instructor who worked on the Apollo 11 mission himself. Neily recalls the intensity of the moment when, among the NASA staff, the launch seemed inevitable: “There was this dead silence while everyone considered the fact that we had no more technical excuses not to attempt to land [on the moon] for the next mission, Apollo 11.”

Others interviewed in the film reminisce about the overwhelming feelings of awe and interconnectedness that the groundbreaking event inspired in them. “Going to the moon seemed like impossibility becoming real life,” says one interviewee, who was a child at the time of the landing.

In addition to archival footage from the landing’s original broadcast, Napolitano’s film features rousing imagery of the moon as seen by cinematographers across the globe. Napolitano told me that he effectively crowdsourced these shots from a pool of hundreds of filmmakers, none of whom knew what the project was about—only that they were tasked with filming the moon. “You would think that having so many cinematographers shooting the moon for you, you’d get a lot of the same material,” Napolitano said, “but that just wasn’t the case. I was blown away by how much thought these filmmakers put into their shots.”

This mosaic approach to filmmaking lends the documentary a deep sense of nostalgia, much like a time capsule.

“When I look up at the moon, I just see something beautiful,” Napolitano said. “When any of my subjects look up, it transports them back to a moment 50 years ago. The idea that someone can look up at the moon and channel a memory—that gives me chills. Those memories are the foundation of this film.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.