A Poetic New Film Celebrates the Launch of a Galactic Telescope in Chile
Jonathan de Villiers’ The View From Mars: Part One takes an expressive look at ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array), a vast international telescope project that was inaugurated in Chile this week, after decades in the making. When NASA wants to test a Mars rover or figure out how to detect life in the most inhospitable of environments, they go to the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth and an area that bears a striking resemblance to the Red Planet. With an utter absence of moisture and altitudes reaching 6,885 meters, the area is a magnet for astronomers seeking the clearest skies on the globe and the least atmosphere between their telescopes and space. ALMA’s moveable group of 66 giant antennas—planted on the remote and harsh 5,200-meter high Chajnantor Plateau—do not detect visible light like conventional optical telescopes. Instead they work together to gather emissions from gas, dust and stars and make observations in millimeter wavelengths, using radio frequencies instead of visible light—with no need for darkness, so the stars can be studied around the clock. With these tools, astronomers will soon be able to look billions of years into the past, gazing at the formation of distant stars and galaxies. “In doing so,” de Villiers reveals, “they’ll build a clearer picture of how our sun and our galaxy formed.”
Jonathan de Villiers Continues His Homage to the ALMA Telescopes in an Epilogue
The austere but breathtakingly beautiful plateaus and 8.2 meter optical telescopes of Antofagasta, Chile, form the backdrop of photographer and filmmaker Jonathan de Villiers’ The View From Mars: Part 2. Documenting the astronomical breakthroughs of the Atacama Desert, he takes us 500 kilometers southeast of the ALMA project to the Very Large Telescopes (VLTs) of Paranal. Operated by the European Southern Observatory and using visible light as well as infra-red technology, this site has been in operation for over a decade but remains the most productive research factory on Earth, with an average of one scientific paper being published based on information acquired there every day. Among the countless recent and landmark advances to have been made on the premises is the remarkable documentation of an ‘exoplanet’—the first incredible images we have of a planet outside our own solar system.
Spike Jonze Films the French Starlet's Extraterrestrial Affair For Her Latest Video
French singer and actress Soko, aka Stéphanie Sokolinski, beams an interplanetary romance story to our screens in her dreamy video for “I Thought I Was An Alien”, filmed by genius director Spike Jonze. The pair previously collaborated together on Jonze's beguiling stop-frame animation Mourir Auprès de Toi, premiered on NOWNESS, for which Soko provided the voice over and music. This time Soko directed herself, her brother Maxime and Jonze’s brother, music producer and composer Sam Spiegel, in an alien love story set over a day and filmed by Jonze on an iPhone in Echo Park, Los Angeles. With a distinctly DIY aesthetic, the narrative is layered with found imagery of palm trees, fireworks, color-corrected photographs and tints. Currently acting in two French films, Friends From France and Augustine, the multi-talented Soko reveals the charming story behind the video.
Do you think you’re an alien?
I don’t have a lot of self-confidence so I always feel like I’m the weirdo and that maybe I’m from another planet. I don’t strongly believe in aliens but I think the myths surrounding them are fascinating. I wonder if we’re all aliens. Maybe there are other people on other planets; they’re probably just the same as us and struggling with the same things.
How did you and Spike Jonze first meet?
I was going to play the robot girl in his short film I’m Here but was under 25, which was against Absolut Vodka’s laws, who were funding it. From then Spike and I became friends. He got me involved in Mourir Auprès de Toi and I worked with Sam on the music. They said I had to write an upbeat happy song, which was really hard as I was right in the middle of recording my album and feeling all emotional. Sam gave me 30 minutes and a guitar. I came up with this silly riff, which they loved and put to the two skeletons having sex.
Did that naturally lead into working with Spike and Sam on the video for “I Thought I Was An Alien”?
Well they’re just my friends. I directed it, Spike filmed it, Sam’s in it playing the alien I fell in love with and my brother Max plays all the other shots of the alien. I knew that I wanted it to be a very linear story and I knew what I wanted to say. The main idea was an alien love story but the iPhone came up as I’m not very good at planning stuff and finding a camera, so Spike filmed it on an iPhone 8mm app.
Where did you find that incredible alien mask?
I was looking for an alien mask for my album artwork and Spike's friend Tony Gardner, who runs a special effects company called Alterian, let me borrow one for a day. I was staying at Sam’s house at the time so we shot the dancing and sex scene in his living room—which was so funny as he’s my close friend—and the rest around the local area. I had to make sure I caught Spike, Sam and Max together before they went surfing as I had such a short time frame before I had to return the mask.
The album I Thought I Was An Alien by Soko is out February 20, 2012.