AFF Review: The Stars at Night

Texas-filmed doc laments the night sky lost to light pollution

In Hays County, where filmmaker Elizabeth Buckley resides, the night sky is vibrant, visible to the naked eye, full of wonder. Fifteen miles west, to San Marcos, where Buckley teaches at Texas State University, less so. And in nearby Austin, with its skyscrapers blazing light at all hours? Don’t bet on it.

We live in a light-distracted world – certainly in cities, but increasingly in our suburban and rural areas, too. Light pollution, which obscures the night sky, impacts animal migration, sleep patterns, and humans’ connection to the cosmos that has inspired storytellers from Carl Sagan and Joseph Campbell to the Ancient Greeks and the prehistoric artists in the Lascaux cave.

That last point is the one that seems to most interest Buckley, an Emmy, Peabody, and Gracie award-winning producer and writer. Her documentary, The Stars at Night, draws an explicit connection between the stars and humans’ storytelling instincts, and assembles an array of folks to expound that connection, including a mythologist, an astronomer, and an astrophotographer. They speak to the stories the night sky has inspired, often overlapping – the Pleiades star cluster, for instance, which has sparked multiple cultures to invent an origin story involving seven divine sisters. Particularly relevant for the Austin Film Festival crowd – the fest and conference has always been writer-centric – The Stars at Night is at its most engrossing exploring this particular angle.

Less illuminating is a through line involving four Texas State film students, selected to document their trip to Big Bend to see the Milky Way. They are charismatic and goofy and quite eloquent about the impact this experience has had on them. But the minutes spent with them road tripping west or clowning around with each other do not always feel like the most fruitful way to fill the short running time. Ultimately, The Stars at Night – visually striking, appropriately awestruck – has more ideas than its quick 55 minutes can contain.

The Stars at Night

World Premiere
Thu., Nov. 2, 4:30pm, Galaxy Theatre

Austin Film Festival runs Oct. 26-Nov. 3. Badges available now at
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