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Film review: For All Mankind

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Al Reinert's "For All Mankind," made up of footage from government films shot during the nine Apollo moon missions, was the knockout hit at the United States (Sundance) Film Festival in Park City a couple of years ago. In fact, it won both the grand prize as the festival's best documentary and the audience award as the most favored documentary.

But that is not to say "For All Mankind" is a documentary in the conventional sense. (On the other hand, "conventional" documentaries are so rare these days maybe the non-conventional kind are becoming current convention — a subject for a future column if ever I saw one.)

Instead of offering detailed historical analysis, "For All Mankind" is more of a work of art, a gorgeous series of shots taken from 6 million feet of film, lifted by Reinert from Gemini and Apollo archives in Houston.

The film was shot on 16mm, but this is perhaps the most meticulous transfer to 35mm ever attempted, and the results are astonishing. There is no detectable graininess at all in the footage on the moon. The clarity of the full-color imagery is remarkable.

Reinert has chosen to string moments from several flights together as if they come from one trip, a conceit that works quite well as it creates audience expectations early on and then fulfills them magnificently.

Seen on the big screen with an audience, "For All Mankind" is a wondrous experience that comes as close as anything can to making the audience feel as if it has gone along on the flight.

There is one annoying flaw, however, in the narration, which is made up of interviews with retired astronauts — who are unexpectedly quite candid, by the way. There's nothing wrong with the content — on the contrary it is quite enlightening. But those who are speaking during the film remain unidentified until the credits at the film's conclusion.

But taken as intended, "For All Mankind" is an amazing piece of history, served up without further explanation. It is sure to make the audience gasp and perhaps even give a collective psychological boost to America's feelings about space travel — which, at the present time, can use all the help it can get.

"For All Mankind" is not rated but would doubtless receive a G.