ALMOST FAMOUS: THE LOST ASTRONAUT
Filmmaker: Ben Proudfoot
Year of Completion: 2019
TRT: 13 mins
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
In 1963, Ed Dwight Jr. was poised to be NASA’s first African-American astronaut. Until suddenly, he wasn’t.
Almost Famous: The Lost Astronaut (Ben Proudfoot, 2019) is a short film that renders systemic and spectacular forms of racism visible and examines how they shape the life of black astronaut Ed Dwight Junior in a historic context. The film tells the story of Ed Dwight Jr. the astronaut who should have been the first black man on the moon. Dwight Jr.’s astronaut story is emblematic of the both systemic racism and personal bigotry, which combined to keep him grounded despite excelling in virtually every relevant field. When NASA made this decision, Ed had already completed the gauntlet required for astronauts, an extraordinarily taxing regimen, the difficulty of which was compounded by openly hostile racism. After resigning from the Air Force, Dwight would become a successful entrepreneur, an engineer, and, eventually, a vaunted artist and sculptor.
Brown’s art career began with a commission from the first black lieutenant governor in Colorado, George L. Brown. Dwight would become a prolific sculptor whose work emphasized the history and experience of Black Americans. Each of his pieces involves black folks and civil rights activists, with a focus on the themes of slavery, emancipation, and post-reconstruction. His series Black Frontier in the American West and Jazz: An American Art Form are emblematic of his work, and as publicly-commissioned projects memorialize some of the contributions black Americans have made, which are frequently obfuscated and rendered invisible by the plethora of sculptures dedicated to Confederate and other racist figures from American history. This concept is also born out formally, as Dwight is noted for his innovative use of negative space in sculpting. As of 2019, Dwight had created 129 memorial sculptures and pieces of pubic art and 18,000 gallery pieces. Most of these remain in public space, but some are housed in Ed Dwight Studios, which is open to the public.
The short film about Dwight, Almost Famous: The Lost Astronaut, exists online as part of a NY Times Op-Doc and Learning Network short film. It was made by SDFF alum Ben Proudfoot, and is a powerful and visually-striking short film for people of all ages. The film brings together a number of issues that have finally become subjects of mainstream public and political discourse. The Learning Network Film Club version, which includes educational material is a great choice for families with children. Proudfoot and Breakwater Studios, which crafted this biographical short, is also responsible for Webby winner and SDFF2020/Docs Make House Calls short film, That’s My Jazz, about world renowned pastry chef Milt Abel II, as he reflects on his relationship with his deceased father Milton Abel Sr., a famed Kansas City Jazz musician.