Close encounters of the film kind

WEB-Matthew cimone-Mark Burnham

By Ljudmila Petrovic
Photos by Mark Burnham

At an early age, Matthew wanted to become an astronaut, but his eyesight wasn’t good enough. Growing up in northwestern Ontario, Matthew Cimone would spend many starry nights with his grandfather’s telescope, looking up at space. Matthew’s grandfather was the one that in- stilled his early love for space. “One of the things he wanted to convey was just how vast the universe is,” says Matthew of his grandfather.

Another thing that his grandfather had taught him was the value of humanity, and so Mat- thew studied international development instead. Upon gradu- ation, however, he realized that he still had a lingering hunger to explore space.

“At some point, a couple years ago, I started recognizing that maybe where my training was in school and my interest in space were not as dichotomous as I thought they were,” he explains. And so, Matthew and his childhood friend Paul Muzzin, a film school graduate, embarked on their own mission: making the documentary Chasing Atlan- tis. Muzzin has his own production company, through which the friends started on the film project.

In July 2011, after 30 years and 135 missions, the space shuttle Atlantis was launched for the last time, marking the end of the space shuttle era.

This inspired the duo to film an independent documentary, in honour of the transition between “old space,” a more government-led approach, and “new space,” which is charac- terized by a rise in entrepreneurial companies indepen- dently going into space. “It’s basically a film about people’s love for space and science fiction against the backdrop of the retirement of the space shuttle program,” explains Matthew.

Certainly, there’s the obvious risk that astronauts take, but Matthew also talks about this risk in other facets: in art, in chang- ing careers, and in his own expe- rience with the project. “It’s looking at space as a metaphor for risk-taking in life,” he sums up. A political scientist by training, Matthew finds ways to draw certain parallels between the two sciences. The most striking is the link with a conflict diamond (also known as a blood diamond) — that is, a diamond mined in the midst of a war and sold for nefarious purposes, usually to a warlord.

Having worked in Sierra Leone, a country infamous for blood diamonds, Matthew is quick to put things into perspective by using space. In the context of the universe, diamonds aren’t really that rare on other planets. “The diamond of the universe is life, that’s the rarest thing out there,” he adds. “When we forget these perspectives, we’re willing to trade the most precious thing, life, for the far less precious.”

Space is vast, and learning about it is relevant and acces- sible to everybody. “One of the neat things about astronomy is that it’s a field of science that’s accessible to almost everyone,” concludes Matthew. “The three lessons from the universe: it’s way older than us, it’s way bigger than us, and it’s crazy, amazingly beautiful.”

It is projected that the documentary will hit film festivals in the fall.

The Peak chatted with Matthew for podcast #6! Listen here

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