by Director Matt Wolf
Spaceship Earth is the story of a group of adventurers and idealists, who built an enormous terrarium in the Arizona desert with a miniature replica of earth. They called their model world Biosphere 2, and in 1991 eight “biospherians” went to live hermetically sealed inside for two years. While making this film, I never could have imagined that a pandemic would require the entire world to be quarantined. Like all of us today, the biospherians lived confined inside, and they managed day to day life with limited resources, often under great interpersonal stress. But when they re-entered the world, they were forever transformed—no longer would they take anything for granted—not even a breath.
One thing that I definitely won’t ever take for granted again is going to the movie theater with my friends. I make movies to share that communal experience with others, and to spark meaningful conversations. Still, I’m excited for audiences to experience this story in a different way because I think it might provide some perspective about our current situation.
Spaceship Earth follows a small group called “the synergists,” who dreamed up wild ideas on a commune in New Mexico. They were workaholics and adventurers, who taught themselves how to build an enormous ship, so that they could start ecological enterprises around the world. When they became aware of the emerging threat of climate change in the early 1980s, they began to prepare for colonizing Mars. It sounds like science fiction, but this mostly forgotten story is bizarrely true. The synergists’ project Biosphere 2 became a pop culture sensation, and a novel demonstration of sustainable living on earth.
This story is testament to what humans can achieve when they put their minds together toward a common goal, but it is also a cautionary tale about the limitations of idealism. The biospherian Mark Nelson says in the film, “small groups are engines of change.” That really struck me because it’s a viable model for all of us to start reimagining the world, and now more than ever, we need to think and act differently. Marshall McLuhan put it best, “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.” So if eight people were able to manage their miniature world, take responsibility for their actions, and live sustainably, then why can’t we?