SINGTON, DAVID - IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON
Man’s landing on the moon was a spectacular technical and scientific
achievement – but David Sington wanted to show the emotional, human side, as he
gets the astronauts to recall how they felt, not just what they did, he tells
Andrew L. Urban.
In July 1969, Englishman David Sington was just a kid; he watched the moon
landing in excited Spanish, next door to the family’s holiday apartment in a
small Spanish town. Local time was 4am. “That was the latest I’d ever stayed
up,” he recalls as he is whisked through Sydney to promote the film he has now
made that celebrates that moment – and many others in the Apollo space program,
In the Shadow of the Moon.
He stepped outside and looked up in awe at the moon, trying to imagine Neil
Armstrong standing there. It remains one of his clearest childhood memories, and
only now when making his latest documentary did it dawn on him that his seeing
it Spanish was symbolic of the event. “Nationality didn’t matter – it was one of
us, us humans, up there.”
"fascinated by science"
David is fascinated by science, although he is quick to point out he is no
space buff. But his producer Dr Duncan Copp, born after man had landed on the
moon, has a PhD in Planetary Geology and has worked with NASA. It was Duncan who
knew astronaut Dave Scott, and who proposed the idea of a reunion of astronauts
from the Apollo days and record it on film.
David has over 40 producer and series producer credits for prime-time factual
programmes on the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS. His films have been shown by 30
different broadcasters in 22 countries. His portfolio includes the acclaimed BBC
series Earth Story, for which he was series producer and received the Walter
Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism, presented to him by the
American Geophysical Union in 1999, and Project Poltergeist which won a Grierson
Award in 2004.
When the idea of the astronaut reunion was presented to him, David was hooked.
“I was drawn to it because it is a completely unique human experience. Nobody
else has ever had that experience. How did that experience affect them? So it
was not so much about how man went to the moon – that’s been done. In this
project, it is much more personal, it’s about them, the astronauts, their
characters, the emotional context.”
Pictures of astronauts in their space suits make them all look identical; their
personalities and characters vanish behind the helmet. “The communications with
Houston that we have all heard are all very cool and technical,” says David,
“but the tapes of the on-board conversations are anything but. They’re full of
human responses, enthusiasm, excitement … so the film allows us to see the world
through their eyes.”
"a radical time"
The other aspect of the film that is noteworthy is the socio-political
context of the era. It was a time of rapid social transformation, with civil
rights at the top of the list. It was the 60s and every institution was being
challenged, mores and morals were transforming. It was a radical time –and the
astronauts, who looked so square with their short back and sides haircut amid
the hair generation, were also doing the most radical things man has done in
Of all the astronauts who speak to camera remembering and reconstructing the
Apollo missions, the one who is missing is the first man on the moon, Neil
Armstrong. But David Sington has realised it’s for the best. “I tried hard to
persuade him to be in it at first,” he says, “and it was a very difficult task
to get any of them involved actually. They’re very busy and you have to book
them up about a year ahead! And Neil did think about it, but in the end he wrote
me an interesting letter explaining why he doesn’t want to talk about his
personal feelings. He said it’s missing the point. He’s always seen himself as a
representative – a bit like the Unknown Soldier, perhaps. He prefers not to
focus on something HE did.”
And that’s why we still talk about man landing on the moon – not Neil Armstrong
landing on the moon.
Published: March 6, 2008
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IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON
Dir. David Sington
Between 1968 and 1972, nine American spacecraft were hurled at the moon and
12 men walked on it. The surviving crew members from every Apollo mission which
flew to the moon come together to tell their stories of danger, pride and
passion, illustrated with clips of remastered archival footage from NASA, much
of it never seen by the public.
Australian release: March 6, 2008