Charting an Earth-Based Trajectory Among the Stars in It's Quieter in the Twilight

All Earth’s voyagers must meet their end of days

There's nothing we've made that's farther from home than the Voyager spacecraft. There's nothing we've made that's told us, in situ, more about what's out there in the vastness beyond our world and its star-anchored system of planets. Now, 44 years after they were first launched, Voyagers 1 and 2 continue to communicate with Earth and probe the secrets of deep space. But soon that's going to end.

Billy Miossi's new film, It's Quieter in the Twilight, premiering at this year's South by Southwest Film Festival, tells us how and why, from the perspective of the team shepherding the vehicles in their final days. The final days of the spacecrafts' utility, yes, but also – humans being other than immortal, after all – the final days of the people involved.

“When you come to an end like that, it’s devastating to think about.” – Billy Miossi

"In this very nondescript office building that could be an insurance agency," said Miossi, "there's this tiny team, people who are past retirement age, and they're still dedicating themselves to this mission that has taken humanity farther than we've ever been before. Just the patient dedication of these engineers, waiting and waiting and waiting for the craft to get to interstellar space – it's really inspiring."

"Not much has been made about the people behind the Voyager mission," added Alissa Shapiro, who co-produced the film with Matt Reynolds. "It's a very human story of one of humanity's greatest accomplishments, and we felt that story needed to be told."

That story's told through intimate interviews with the engineers working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory – Voyager project manager Suzy Dodd, and team members Sun Matsumoto, Enrique Median, Fernando Peralta, Jefferson Hall, Todd Barber, and Chris Jones – interspersed with historical media coverage (Hey, there's Carl Sagan! Look, it's Jimmy Carter!) and an array of compelling animations that depict the far-flung events. Miossi smiled at the mention of those visuals. "We knew we'd need motion graphics to portray the Voyager spacecraft," he said, "because of course we can't actually film them. But the rest of it came together as we arranged the story and saw what we needed – and we had a team of artists who did a terrific job of visualizing the environment that Voyager's in out there, helping the audience understand different things like the heliopause and termination shock – all those science-y terms."

"Yes," agreed Shapiro, "we wanted to make those things comprehensible to people who aren't as brushed up on Voyager as we've been during the filmmaking process."

On the other hand, we're all brushed up on what it's like to be human, and, increasingly, what it's like to age toward our own quieter twilights. And now here we are, considering the trajectory of a filmmaker – who also directed Eye on the World, the 2017 doc about Walter Cronkite and the Evening News – who's much closer to the dawn of his own mission. And did Miossi ever feel that resonance?

The director nodded. "There's this moment with Chris Jones at the end, where he gets very emotional about that. He's thinking back to when he was young and just starting his career, and that did make me reflect that, here I am, at the younger end and at the early part of my career. And it's hard for me, now, to feel that – but, yeah, looking ahead 40 years, I can only imagine how hard that must be – especially for something I'm so passionate about, as all these engineers are about Voyager. When you come to an end like that, it's devastating to think about."

Documentary Feature Competition

It’s Quieter in the Twilight

World Premiere

Sunday, March 13, noon, Alamo South Lamar

Monday, March 14, 7:15pm, Violet Crown

Wednesday, March 16, noon, Alamo South Lamar

Online: March 14-16

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