How a vintage film format brought 'Apollo 11' back to life


Washington — New documentary "Apollo 11," which tells the story of man's first steps on the Moon, contains footage so striking that it seems practically a crime that it remained hidden for nearly five decades.

The film -- which premiered at Sundance in January but only hit US theaters this weekend -- injects new life into the most famous space mission of all time, which transfixed the world from July 16-24, 1969.

It blends images that are well known with long lost gems found in a National Archives warehouse and digitized for the first time.

"A good 50 percent of the film is images that have never been seen before but really, 100 percent of it has really never truly been seen before -- the quality of it all," director Todd Douglas Miller told AFP in a recent interview.

The visuals are mesmerizing: seen in color in a theater, the tracks of the giant NASA crawler-transporter -- used to carry the massive Saturn V rocket that launched the crew into space -- fill the entire screen.

The captivating shots were a few of the many found on 177 65mm reels uncovered by Dan Rooney, supervisory archivist of the National Archives film section,

They were found poorly labeled, without any real indication of their contents except for a generic "Apollo 11," at a storage facility in the Maryland suburbs where the temperature was below freezing.

"We knew these large format holdings existed, but it took a lot of research to really understand what was there," said Rooney, who worked with Miller to bring the reels to the silver screen.

"The real discovery part was in the research that led us to a lot of new information about the content and the quality of the material."

All told, the Archives provided the film crew with 279 reels of 16, 35, 65 and 70 mm film.

The 65mm and 70mm were considered the luxury format of their time, used in cinema in the 1950s and 1960s.

Only a part of the trove was used for the 1972 film "Moonwalk One."

NASA probably didn't use the reels "because of the difficulty of working with these large formats, and they probably lacked the equipment and the expertise," said Rooney. — AFP