Space Probe Passenger

  • Dominika Ożarowska

Short film I made as a part of the final year MA documentary programme in Lodz Film School under supervision of Jacek Bławut. It won the Best Documentary award at Berlin Sci-fi Filmfest and was nominated for the Best Short Film award at Sydney Science Fiction Film Festival.

poster by Gabriela Cygan

A forgotten space probe learns to write meaningful poetry while drifting away from its home planet. Humans on Earth conduct research in order to understand it. As the experiments continue, they get to know themselves better.

Space Probe Passenger is a short film I made as a part of the final year MA documentary programme in Lodz Film School under supervision of Jacek Bławut. It's a fictitious story presented as a documentary, but doesn't exactly fall under the mockumentary category as well. Its objective is to ignore the difference between reality and fantasy, rather than exploit it. It encourages the audience to think critically about what they see, which is important in the times when we seem to take all information at face value.

I first came up with an idea of combining poetry and space footage when NASA had an open contest for a short film compiled of material from their library. I thought that giving a device such as a space probe a human personality would capture the romantic idea that the general public holds of space missions. Even though they are inanimate, cold, mechanical devices we like to think of them as brave, curious space robots who send knowledge from the very fringes of cognition back to Earth.

I didn't make such a film at the time, but I came back to it when an opportunity to shoot a documentary as a part of my studies arised. It had to be made on a scarce budget, in half the time dedicated to this programme in prior years. In order to save the resources, I used found footage material made accessible by courtesy of ESA, and came up with simple Q&A sequences that were shot in a classroom. Application of multicamera editing made the process significantly faster, but also highlighted spontaneity of the recorded events.

The film was mostly influenced by my long time interest in vintage science TV shows, especially the Polish classic Sonda, which was based on a dialog between different perspectives, as well as the likes of Carl Sagan's Cosmos or John Berger's Ways of Seeing. I was particularly inspired by how they combined simple conditions with extraordinary ideas. Another significant impact would be novels, short stories and other work by Philip K. Dick, who believed art to be a literal window to alternative realities.

I was surprised to see how readily the participants searched for a meaning in the presented texts. Even though they knew I had pulled most of the words out of a hat at random and fabricated the story, they put themselves in it anyway. It seems that as much as we like to think about machines as people, we also tend to look for patterns behind the apparent chaos and keep finding our own reflection in it. I hope that this film will give the audience an opportunity to take a break from everyday struggle and wonder for a while about what it means to be human in the present day.
digital poem by Nick Montfort
Sydney Science Fiction Film Festival, Best Short Film nominee, November 2020
Berlin Sci-fi Filmfest, Best Documentary, December 2020
Blue Planet Science Fiction Film Festival (China), official selection, December 2020
ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival (Berlin), official selection, December 2020