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GlobeDocs film festival opens with Goodnight Oppy documentary

“My battery is low and it’s getting dark,” were the final words of the viral NASA rover, Opportunity. The rover survived 15 years — long surpassing its 90 sol, the number in Mar’s days, life expectancy.

The “Goodnight Oppy” movie poster. The documentary about NASA’s Mars rover, Opportunity, kicked off the 2022 GlobeDocs Film Festival. COURTESY OF AMAZON STUDIOS VIA IMDB

In 2003, NASA sent twin rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, to opposite sides of Mars with the 90 Sols mission to find evidence of ancient water. Spirit survived 20 times longer than expected, and Opportunity survived 55 times longer, according to the NASA website.

“Goodnight Oppy,” a documentary directed by Ryan White with a team of over 300 people, kicked off the 2022 GlobeDocs Film Festival at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. Following the showing, White participated in a question-and-answer discussion with the audience and Chief Executive Officer of the Boston Globe Media Linda Henry.

GlobeDocs is an annual festival which features documentaries hosted by the Boston Globe.

White said he and his team spent two and a half years sifting through almost a thousand hours of footage from NASA’s archive, conducting interviews, digitally creating Mars and putting this documentary together.

Annah Chaya, a second-year at Northeastern University, said this was the first premiere she has attended and the set up of the screening was “super cool.”

“We got to see a lot of his behind the scenes and what he endured especially since the filming and this whole movie creation happened right when everything shut down because of COVID,” Chaya said.

The public has been invested in NASA projects before, but White said Opportunity and Spirit connected “perhaps more than anything” else with the public. When Opportunity’s mission was declared to be over, he said it was a “gut punch.”

“The genius of the design was that they created this lovable creature,” White said, “that they didn’t have to create to invite us, the public along, the taxpayers, the people paying for this expedition.”

White said to produce a film “you really have to love your stories.”

“We’ve always been looking for a space story … but we had never found one that we thought was worth years of our lives,” White said.

Then, White said he saw the 2019 viral tweet about Opportunity and he remembered “it moving [him].” A year later, Steven Spielberg’s company, Amblin, reached out to White and asked if he would be interested in creating a documentary about the rover.

“Jeff and I looked at each other, that’s my best friend and producing partner, and said, ‘This is the one,’” White said.

White said he worked with “huge visual effects” and used collections of photos from satellites on Mars and the pictures sent from the rovers to replicate the entirety of Mars.

“Everything you just saw in the film is completely derived from the imagery … both robots obviously had cameras on them so we were able to see through their eyes,” White said. “NASA was consulted to make sure that every scene in our film, every shot, all the lighting, the weather on a certain day or the amount of dust in the air … would be completely accurate.”

The first scene that White shot was actually the final scene in the film — the launch of NASA’s 2020 robot “Perseverance.” White was one of the few people allowed at the Kennedy Space Center to see the event because it was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was one of the best days of my life to get to watch Perseverance launch,” White said. “I mean you feel it literally throughout your body. So that’s when the film started. It was that shoot.”

Jennifer Seminack, a sophomore in the Boston University College of Communications, said as a film major she was “really glad” to hear the conversation with the director following the show.

“The movie itself I think was full of so much heart and soul,” Seminack said. “It was a really beautiful little piece of art.”

“Goodnight Oppy” opens in theaters Nov. 4 and Amazon Prime Nov. 24.


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