How to Build a Time
Machine premiered on May 5, 2016 at the
US premiere at SF Doc Fest
7:00pm and June 15th 9:15pm
“Believe it or not,
I’m from the future
Jay Cheel is a documentary filmmaker from St.Catharines, Ontario. His feature debut, Beauty Day, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of their Canadian Front programming series. The film was also an official selection at the Hot Docs international film festival and was nominated in the 'Best Documentary' category of the 2012 Genie Awards. Previously, Jay worked for video game developer Silicon Knights, where he directed the short film 'The Goblin Man of Norway', a viral marketing film for the XBox 360 game 'Too Human'. Jay is the editor and founder of The Documentary Blog and is the co-host of the Film Junk Podcast.
How to Build a Time Machine
HOT DOCS 2016
REVIEW: HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE
How H.G. Wells inspired two men to build a time machine in hopes of mending a heartbreaking past
Movies are time machines. All of them provide a window into the past, whether it’s the 16 seconds since you made that iPhone video of your cat, or the 120 years since the Lumière brothers shot footage of a steam train entering a station.
So it is perhaps not surprising that some of our strongest reactions to film come about when the science and fiction of time travel collide on celluloid. In 1960, Rod Taylor starred in a filmed adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, written in 1895. Two little boys discovered the story soon after, and have been working to duplicate the feat ever since.
How to Build a Time Machine is Canadian director Jay Cheel’s look at these men’s stories. In many ways, they could not be more different. Rob Niosi is constructing a perfect replica of the machine from the movie, starting with a barber chair purchased from a Rockefeller estate auction, and adding metal rails, a rotating disc, crystal controls and flashing lights.
Ron Mallett, meanwhile, is a theoretical physicist working on the science of time travel. His device at the University of Connecticut is a stack of super-cooled ring lasers, bathed in dry ice and an unearthly, perhaps untimely green glow.
“It’s about nostalgia and obsessiveness,” Cheel says of his movie, which has its world premiere May 2 as part of the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto, before a wider theatrical release this summer. “It’s trying to achieve perfection, and having to get over the fact that not everything is perfect.”
Cheel’s subjects also have very different goals. Niosi hopes his beautiful Victorian device will last for generations, travelling some 200 years into the future, albeit in real time. He imagines his great-great-grandchildren puzzling over what to do with it.
Mallett is haunted by the death of his beloved father, which happened when the boy was just 10. Since then, he has dedicated his life to understanding how time travel could work, with a notion that he might somehow warn his 33-year-old dad of the impending heart attack.
Mallett will have no great-great-grandchildren; he decided to remain childless, lest his offspring love him less than he did his own father. “It’s almost like a curse for him,” Cheel says sadly, “though I don’t know if he would see it that way.”
Cheel’s curiosity is more cinematic: “I had been interested in time travel in terms of storytelling,” he says. Films can compress or extrude time; an unbroken take shows real time, while a jump cut can leap over a minute or a million years. He was also entranced by location footage shot prior to 1979. “Anything filmed before I was born is immediately interesting,” he says. “It feels like you’re looking through a window.”
But in interviewing Niosi he saw additional parallels between time and film. In the ’80s, Niosi was an animation director for Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and might spend eight hours creating 12 seconds of stop-motion footage. If a spaceship were to accelerate to 99.97 per cent of light speed, time dilation due to relativity would make 12 seconds for the traveller equal eight hours on Earth. “Cinema as a time machine,” says Cheel.
How to Build a Time Machine isn’t even Cheel’s first foray into the subject. A student film he made in 2005, Obsessed & Scientific – watchable on Vimeo and featuring a cheeky copyright date of MCMLX – shows a younger Niosi hard at work on his time machine.
Obsessed & Scientific also explored the story of John Titor, an alleged time traveler from 2036 who posted on Internet bulletin boards at the turn of the century; his predictions have since been discredited. “There’s a sincerity that would have been annihilated by this John Titor thing,” Cheel says of his decision to leave this part of the story out of How to Build a Time Machine.
He’s much more interested in the twin tales of the craftsman and the physicist. Niosi is driven by a sense of romance and adventure; when he sits in his creation, it’s as though he’s a Victorian gentleman-scientist travelling forward to our age. For Mallett, his research offers a potential solution to a personal trauma.
'It will bring the future
to you': Iranian scientist claims he's invented a time machine
“Science fiction can inspire real science – or art,” says the director. How to Build a Time Machine is itself proof of that.
How to Build a Time Machine is a documentary by Jay Cheel which explores the stories of two men who are obsessed with building their own time machines inspired by H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.
The film will be premiering on May 2 at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto and you can purchase tickets here. It will also be screening at the DOXA Festival in Vancouver on May 7. More screenings including at US film festivals are currently in the works. Thanks to Birth.Movies.Death. for all the details.
How to Build a Time Machine follows two men as they set out on a journey to build their own time machines.
Rob Niosi is a stop motion animator who has spent the last 13 years obsessively constructing a full-scale replica of the time machine prop from the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. It's his attempt to recapture the memory of seeing the film in theatres with his father.
Dr.Ron Mallett is a theoretical physicist whose story begins with a tragedy. He was only 10 years old when his father died suddenly of a heart attack. Distraught, he sought solace in science-fiction. After reading The Time Machine, Ron dedicated his life to studying physics. He has since become a professor at the University of Connecticut and is now working on building a real time machine in the hopes that he might go back in time to save his father's life.
Trailer For HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE Offers Obsession And Emotion
We are big fans of Beauty Day here at Twitch (full disclosure, I contributed to a commentary track on the DVD) and are happy to see documentary filmmaker Jay Cheel back with a sci-fi inflected documentary, How To Build A Time Machine.
A couple of years ago, we reported on this project, which was originally focused on the Jon Titor (a self-proclaimed man from the future) story, but the documentary has evolved a fair ways since then, and has locked in on two subjects: Rob Niosi, a man who has been building a time machine replica (from the classic 1960s film The Time Machine) for many, many years, and PhD Physicist and author Ronald Mallett, who has been researching the nuts and bolts (i.e. mathematics) of time travel for equally as many years.
Jay Cheel's work tends to be a pretty Twitch-friendly mixture of Errol Morris, John Carpenter, Werner Herzog and Mario Bava. His debut feature, Beauty Day, focused on the complicated personal life of a man who was doing a cable access Jackass-style show years before Johnny Knoxville and company made that sort of thing famous on MTV.
His precise cinematography, music, and film making craft, aim to bring out the truth as much as talking heads and historical record. How To Build A Time Machine looks like gorgeous and compelling stuff. The release date is a while off, but I am certainly looking forward to that day arriving. Oh, if I only had a time machine.
Part of our Spotlight on Borders and Boundaries this year, Jay Cheel’s remarkable new film explores what is perhaps the ultimate boundary, the 4th dimension, time itself. Since humans first walked the planet, they’ve been searching for a way to conquer time. Thus far, the only means of doing this existed in the realm of science fiction novels, comic books and, of course, movies. But as Cheel discovers, scientists are drawing ever closer to this fabled quest.
The film focuses on two different men, each uniquely obsessed with time travel. When animator Rob Niosi was seven years old, he and his brother were promised an outing to see the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine. During an afternoon playing by the creek, the brothers lost track of time, and the chance to go to the movies. In desperation, Rob blamed it on the fact that he didn’t have a watch. Their parents relented, the kids got to see the movie, and as Rob recounts, later that week they also received their first time machines — wristwatches. This early experience became the seed for Niosi’s decade-long quest to build a scale model of Wells’s time machine, right down to the last exquisite detail. Physicist Ronald Mallet’s obsession with time travel was also rooted deeply in childhood. When Mallet lost his father at an early age, he embarked on a lifelong quest to conquer both time and death. Mallet’s discovery of Einstein’s theory that time could be altered, started him on his ultimate ambition to build a real live working time machine. He is getting very close to bringing this idea to reality. -DW
Jay Cheel is a documentary filmmaker from St. Catharines, Ontario. His feature debut, Beauty Day, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of their Canadian Front programming series. The film was also an official selection at the Hot Docs international film festival and was nominated in the ‘Best Documentary’ category of the 2012 Genie Awards. In addition to being a filmmaker, Jay is also the co-host of the Film Junk Podcast. How to Build a Time Machine is his second feature documentary.
Screened on :
Saturday, May 7, 2016 - 9:00pm
How to Build a Time Machine
DOXA 2016 review: How to Build a Time Machine
by Tammy Kwan on May 5th, 2016 at 1:13 PM
Filmmaker Jay Cheel tells the stories of two men and their obsession with time travel—deriving from pure curiosity in one case, tragedy in the other.
Inspired by the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, Rob Niosi set out to exactly replicate the time travelling prop from the popular movie. Originally a three-month project, it eventually turned into a decade-long work of art that cost Niosi more than just his savings; it took patience, dediction, and self-learned artisanal skills.
Physicist Ronald Mallet made it his life goal to travel back in time to save the beloved father he lost in childhood. Pursuing Einstein’s theories, his studies culminated with a breakthrough discovery, but further research was halted because the funding needed for his ambitious project was unrealistic.
Cheel takes viewers on a philosophical, reflective, scientific journey through a topic that’s more familiar to us as speculative fiction. But How to Build a Time Machine is very much about the real, and manages to explore time travel not only through lighthearted fantasy, but through tangible facts, made all the more intriguing by the film’s crisp and clean visuals.
How to Build a Time Machine’
Entertains and Inspires
The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.
All throughout history, there have been dreamers grabbing society by the coat tails and dragging them (kicking and screaming) into a world where the impossible exists. Copernicus’ theories on the universe and the Wright brothers taking flight are examples of brilliant men with ambitions that exceeded what was thought possible. More recently, Neil Armstrong’s lunar walk and Apple’s iPhone debut both seemed virtually impossible just a scant few years before they took place. What’s impossible today may be unlikely tomorrow and common place the day after that.
In 2016, time travel only exists in the realm of science-fiction. Ask a physicist however, and theoretical probability leaves time travel’s doorway open just a crack. That infinitesimally small chance is all the motivation a dreamer needs to begin imposing their will on the impossible.
Rob Niosi is building an
intricate replica of the machine used in George Pal’s The Time
Machine adaptation. Niosi’s construction of the craft eventually
shifts from passion project to obsession, and he spends years of his
life recreating the machine in painstaking detail. Ron Mallett is a
theoretical physicist. As a boy, Mallett lost his father to a heart
condition. Since then, Mallett has dedicated his life to understanding
the laws of time and space. Mallett’s goal is to crack the mystery
behind travel so that he can go back and save his father.
Both men are looking to attain the impossible; Niosi seeks an unattainable level of perfection for his replication; Mallett wants to live out a Doctor Who-like time travel fantasy. What makes How to Build a Time Machine such a great documentary is that it’s not just interested in watching Niosi and Mallett chase after their eccentric goals. Cheel really keys in on the nature of fixation. While Niosi and Mallett are always moving forward towards their goals, they are actually chasing down moments from their lives that are far behind them. Cheel spends a significant amount of time examining what drives these men to romanticize the past.
When a documentary focuses on subjects as charismatic as Mallett and Niosi, it’s easy to just point the camera at them and shoot — the material would still be riveting. Fortunately, Cheel goes the extra mile and ensures How to Build a Time Machine’s look is as compelling as its subject matter. Cheel has a magnificent eye and he imbues many of hiss film’s scenes with stylish framing and slick camera movement befitting of a music video. How to Build a Time Machine’s polished cinematic look is a real treat to see in a documentary.
Father time is undefeated, but that doesn’t stop people from stepping up and challenging him for his crown. The human spirit inherently wants to test limits, push boundaries, and achieve the impossible. In order to do so, society must produce dreamers and forward thinkers willing to go against the grain, often at cost of personal sacrifice. Mallett and Niosi are perfect examples of the type of knowledgeable and inspired individuals that drive scientific and artistic innovation. How to Build a Time Machine is as inspiring as it is enjoyable, a must see for anyone who ever dared to think outside the box.
Time travel might just become
a reality very soon
Mallett’s quest to build a time machine has been a lifelong one – inspired by the death of his father, when he was aged 10.
In a recent documentary about the creation of his time machine called "How To Build A Time Machine" Ronald Mallett says, ‘I would say it was fair to call what I was doing an obsession. I was obsessed with wanting to see my father again.
‘I was obsessed with trying to find out how one could control
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