Q&A With Rory Kennedy: Above And Beyond NASA’s Journey To Tomorrow

Naomi Powell-Brown:  Okay. DStv Magazine, can you ask your first question please?

Speaker:  Yes. The first question is, so how did people imagine cosmos before the era of NASA? It was 60 years of people in space, we can say, almost. And before this era, we didn’t know how to eat this cosmos, how to perceive it. And how do you know, how do you do this, how do you imagine it?

Rory Kennedy: Thank you. Well, first of all, this is Rory Kennedy, and I want to thank all of you for joining today. Again, we’re sorry, but things were running behind here, and appreciate your patience, and I’m excited to speak with you. And I appreciate you all of you giving some attention to the film and letting people know that it’s coming out. So, thank you.

In terms of the specific question, it’s pretty mind-boggling and exciting to think about all that we’ve learned in these last 60 years. And so, I think it’s a good question to remember where we were 60 years ago, before NASA was really part of our efforts to understand and explore space. You know, prior to NASA we didn’t have rocket ships that could go into – outside of our atmosphere; we had never sent a man up into space – that started with the Apollo programme. I think that, you know, everything that we knew really about the [inaudible] from the back end of a telescope here on planet Earth. And the knowledge of our solar system was quite limited, the galaxy as well, as, of course, our universe. And there has been an endless number of breakthroughs over these last six decades which are quite exciting and really led by NASA.

Naomi Powell-Brown:  Perfect. Can we have the next question from Sarah, from DStv Magazine please.

Sarah Borchert: Thank you very much. Hi Rory, it’s lovely to talk to you. Why did you feel that this was an important story to tell now? What is significant about the 60 years, and are there other reasons perhaps for bringing NASA’s story to the forefront again?

Rory Kennedy: Well, I think that NASA has really done more for our understanding to some of the basic questions that we ponder as human beings – where did we come from, are we alone, what’s to become of us. And the amount of knowledge that we’ve learned from this institution I think is greater than any institution in history. So, now coming up on its 60th anniversary seems like a good time to look back and reflect on the accomplishments and that knowledge.

I think I was particularly interested in this subject matter, in addition to it being the anniversary, in part, because of my uncle John F Kennedy’s involvement and leadership in getting us to the moon; and his extraordinary speech at Rice University in 1962, which I think is one of his all-time great speeches; and the leadership that required, particularly at that time, where we hadn’t sent a man up into space; where we didn’t have the rocket ship capability; and where the stakes were so high; and the vision was so outlandish to think that we could get to the moon within the decade, but, in fact, we were able to accomplish that goal. And, of course, he had the innovation and the leadership and the vision, but NASA had to do the work – they had to build the rocket ships that would not only get us to the moon but then bring them back, most importantly.

You know, it’s an extraordinary thing all around and an exciting thing for me to look back on. But, I think also, you know, I grew up in that era, and the excitement of getting to the moon. And it’s – I think that younger generations don’t – didn’t experience that, and so it’s fun for me, and seems timely to share some of NASA’s accomplishments, and hopefully ignite younger generations to get involved in exploration, space exploration, the innovation, and all the things that NASA is working on I think.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Oh, thank you, Sarah. Marwa from Gulf News?

Marwa Hamad: Yes. Hi Rory, thanks for taking the time to chat to us today. I have a few questions, but I’ll just go with the one for now which is, you know, you had to go for, I’m assuming, through decades of footage for this, which seems like such an overwhelming, you know, process. How did you cull the material, and how did you decide what to leave on the cutting room floor, and how long did that process take?

Rory Kennedy: Thank you. That was a significant part of the process for me in the archives, because I really wanted to make a film that would translate the extraordinary accomplishments of NASA. And part of that is doing – having a visual presentation that really ignites that kind of awe-inspiring feeling. And there are so many amazing images that have come out of NASA over these last many years that I really prioritise the archival process in this film-making endeavour. So, I had a very accomplished archive team, I had an archive producer. I hired them early on and worked very closely with them to identify the types of images that we were looking for. And it honestly almost felt like a curating position for me in the making of this film where we were pulling together some of the greatest images, but that also kind of spoke to meaningful moments in NASA’s history.

One of the challenges is that in the United States, NASA has ten different locations. You know, so it has the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Johnson Space Center in Texas, the Jet Propulsion Lab in LA, or outside Pasadena technically, and the Goddard Space Center outside of Washington DC in Maryland. So, it has these centres scattered across the country and each of them has their own archive houses. So, there’s not kind of one central location where everything is organised. So, it was, you know, it was a challenge. But, it was also a bit of a, kind of, fun scavenger hunt too, to research through all these incredible images and pull them together. And I hope for, you know, those of you – I don’t know who’s seen the film – but when you get to see it, that you experience it for all the awe and wonder that it deserves.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Lovely. Can we go to Fatima from El Mundo?

Fatima Elidrissi: Hello Rory. I wanted to ask you why did you decide to approach this story of NASA from a personal point of view? And how important was John F Kennedy, as you mentioned before, both to the agency and to you personally?

Rory Kennedy: Well, thank you for that question. I didn’t intend to – when I signed on to the project – to have it be such a personal essay. But as I jumped into the material, I felt that the best way to tell this story, and because John F Kennedy’s speech was so meaningful in the effort to get to the moon was such an extraordinary moment. And as a filmmaker, I like to have a relationship with the audience that’s very transparent. And I felt it was important to position myself as John F Kennedy’s niece so that it didn’t come across as simply an objective point of view. And I also felt that it was a more interesting way to tackle the material, because I – when we started the process, it was kind of chronological in its telling, and it felt a little bit like a march through time, and didn’t quite have the energy and vitality that I wanted it to. And I felt also because of the way that I wanted to frame it, which was this idea of the pull towards Earth and the push towards the outer echelons of the universe, that it felt structurally to do it more as an essay film and POV film made it work better actually just as a film. And so, I kind of landed on that at some point during the process, and it felt like it was the right direction and the right move.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Perfect. Can we go – move on to Turkey now.

Demet Sarova: Yes. Hi Rory, it’s great to have this interview with you. And my question is you have produced documents about some of the world’s most important problems like poverty, human rights issues, and all of them have achieved success. Is there a secret to their success?

Rory Kennedy: Secret potion. I don’t know that there’s a secret to that success. You know, I feel very lucky to be making documentaries. I love filmmaking and I love sharing real stories with people, and I love the storytelling aspect of it, and I love the influence that it can have in opening minds and hearts alike. I think that every film I’ve ever made has a new set of challenges and difficulties. In every single film I make, I think at some point in the process oh my God, this is a disaster, what was I thinking, I shouldn’t have done this; but somehow, they kind of come around and the story emerges. And I’ve been very happy with the work to date, and the films I’ve been able to – and the stories I’ve been able to tell and share.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Okay, we’ll move on to Vanda from Savadel Magazine[?].

Vanda Marques: Hello. Thank you so much for having us and for talking with us. What I would like to ask you, Rory, was throughout this research that you had to do for the documentary, all this footage, what was the most impressive thing that you discovered while doing this investigation and why was it so impressive?

Rory Kennedy: Well, you know, I would say that I learned a huge amount during this process and really have a much deeper understanding and appreciation for NASA and all that we’ve learned, much of which is often, frankly, invisible to the eye. You know, I think that there is – the stores of a lot of knowledge and information and technology that we use – I’m looking at a cellphone right here – and the reason we have the little iPhone cameras in there is because of NASA and their need to make smaller cameras to go up on spacecraft and continue to document what happens up there.

So, you know, there’s all sorts of ways that NASA is a part of our world – the reason – the storage for weather is from NASA, and they feed it to NOAA which then feeds it to the weather channel or wherever you get your information about the weather. All of the satellites are having – you know, are then used by people all around the world and the information that comes out of them. But they are kind of the source material.

So, I’ve been understanding and appreciating just all the ways that NASA has influenced us and how it’s helped us understand, you know, the basic questions. And, you know, with innovations like the Hubble telescope out in space and seeing the cosmos from that angle, and seeing stars being formed and supernovas and, you know, suns like our own forming; it’s really an extraordinary thing – understanding that the galaxy – I mean, that the universe is expanding. We used to think we knew how big the universe was, and through NASA we now don’t know, but we know that we don’t know. It’s really an amazing thing. And, you know, – and the number of exoplanets that it’s uncovered, and 23 earth-like exoplanets that are in the Goldilocks zone that seemingly could harbour life.

It’s also an amazing thing how close they are to finding life, not only in the galaxy but in our solar system, which I think we’re really right on the brink of. That they are, you know, really are at the brink of also having the technology to get us to Mars and get us back from Mars. It’s amazing that we’ve sent the Curiosity rover up to Mars and because of that, and because of the scientific lab, that we understand that Mars was much like Earth 3.5 billion years ago when Earth started harbouring life, and that it had water on it – you know, that is because of NASA.

But I think to me the most pressing and urgent breakthrough has really been around their knowledge of climate change, and what we’re doing through the use of carbon. And, you know, as humans and the damage we’re doing to this planet and the long-term consequence of that, which – and the immediate consequence. I mean, we are experiencing what they predicted, which is more severe storms, higher sea levels, fires, more drought. You know, the [inaudible] that these scientists have for where that’s going to take us not in 100 years but now and the next year, and the year after that. And the consequence of that which is significant and, you know, the stakes are very, very high. I mean, it is human’s ability to survive climate change, if we don’t change course, it’s deeply concerning [inaudible] NASA report to me.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Thank you. Can I get the next question from Ludmilla from Russia?

Ludmilla Arinchina: Yes. Hi Rory, my question is did you face any challenges during your work on above and beyond NASA’s journey [inaudible]

Rory Kennedy: Okay, I’m going to – I think what you were asking me is did you face any challenges during the work of making this film.

Ludmilla Arinchina: Yes. And if yes, what were they?

Rory Kennedy: Yeah. Well, yeah, there were a lot of challenges in the making of this film. You know, I mean, one of the things about NASA is it has so many initiatives over a long period of time, and we were really trying to celebrate all of those. But some of them, other than being part of the same institution, felt disparate and not necessarily connected. For example, you know, initiatives around the International Space Station or the Hubble and [Inaudible] telescope versus what – the work that they were doing and continue to do on Earth and the Arctic and Antarctica and the Greenland ice sheet, as well as in the oceans and Hawaii and throughout the world; and then jumping back to the Curiosity rover and exploration of Mars, and how we get to Mars and the James Webb telescope. And then, you know, the network of antennas that enable us to communicate with the satellites and the orbiters, landers and rovers that are exploring different planets in our solar systems and beyond.

So, it was a challenge to kind of synthesise all of that. And, you know, it’s also complex ideas of how things work, and what the significance of each of them are and how it relates to larger ideas of where we came from and life in the universe and whatnot. I mean it was challenging. And then I would say the archives, as one of you mentioned earlier, you know, there was just thousands, tens of thousands of images and media that NASA has generated. So, figuring out a system to go through that and really get the best of it all was certainly challenging. But hopefully we figured it out and there’s a good film there.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Perfect. Okay, can we go back to Marta from Newsweek? Can we get your next question?

Marta Tomaszkiewicz: Yes, thank you. After the Challenger and Columbia catastrophes, NASA seemed to take a back seat in terms of the expanse[?] space travelling and development of reusable space technology. Some people think NASA has been over-performed by private companies, for example, SpaceX or Boeing. How do you think about this opinion, do you agree with it?

Rory Kennedy: Well, I think that NASA, if you look back through its history, has always worked with the private sector. I think that, you know, even in getting to the moon, rocket ships were made with the support of private sector companies. So, there’s more attention towards that today but I don’t feel that it is a dramatic departure from how NASA has always worked. And I think it as a model is a good way of moving forward, because I think there are a lot of things that NASA can do. There are some limitations as a government agency, and there’s a lot that the private sector can do but they have their own limitations. And the ability to partner I think can really bring out the best in both of them.

I think that, you know, for the last many years with the end of the Space Shuttle, we have been relying on the Russian Soyuz to get people back and forth to the Space Station, and we have not sent up our own people on our own spaceships. And I would like to see us do that again. But, whether that’s through NASA directly or through SpaceX and Boeing, which is the current initiative, I think that is only very positive.

I think the other thing, you know, that has been really exceptional about NASA is their willingness and interest in working and collaborating with not only, you know, the best and brightest minds in this country but internationally as well, and within the private sector as well. And I think really what you want when you are pushing limits and innovating is to pull together the best and brightest. And I think one way to do that is this kind of partnership. And I think it’s a great model not just for NASA but for other companies and our government as well.

Naomi Powell-Brown:  Perfect. Thanks, Marta. Can we go back to Sarah from DStv Magazine.

Sarah Borchert: Yes, sure. Rory, are you ever confronted with the conspiracy theory about the moon landing having being filmed in a Hollywood basement, and if so, do you ever bother to engage with them and what do you say?

Rory Kennedy: I have been confronted with them every now and then, and I say that it’s not true.

Sarah Borchert: Yeah, that’s what I say.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Marwa from Gulf News?

Marwa Hamad: Yeah. I guess, I think a lot of times our entry point into NASA are introductions that happen pretty early in life, it starts like a childlike curiosity or awe. Do you remember some of your earliest memories and, you know, where your interest stems from before adulthood?

Rory Kennedy: You know, I mean, I was born in 1968, and so, I was, you know, obviously very young. I mean I don’t have a memory of landing on the moon, and the Apollo missions were on their way out by the time I gained consciousness. But I grew up in the aftermath of that, and I was, you know, I had the great honour and privilege of being surrounded by people like John Glenn who was good friends with my family and was obviously the first American to orbit Earth. And so, these people were really heroes in my childhood. And so, – and I had such an appreciation of my uncle Jack and his vision and leadership in getting us to the moon and what that took, that I felt that NASA was very much kind of in the ether of my childhood and was an institution that I always had great admiration and respect for.

You know, I think over time, I mean, there are some memories and understandings of, you know, curiosity, getting to the – to Mars, you know, that I was aware of and excited about, and finding water on Mars and kind of these moments. And certainly, the Shuttle programme and the Shuttle disasters were moments that I have recollection of, and the Hubble spacecraft launching and then not having the right mirrors, and then then innovations to fix those and get it working, and the images that came out of that were really awe-inspiring for me.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Next question from Fatima from El Mundo please.

Fatima Elidrissi: Well, yes, I also wanted to ask you about what the different relationships recent Presidents of the USA had with NASA. For example, George Bush wanted to return to the moon, then Barack Obama cancelled that programme to try to go to Mars. And now, Donald Trump has said that the goal is again returning to the moon. So, I wanted to ask you about what do you think about this and is it really possible to achieve something if every administration changes the previous plan.

Rory Kennedy: I think it’s a good question, and you’re tapping into, you know, the way that NASA is structured which is that it is, you know, controlled and governed by the executive branch and the President of the United States. So, you know, that position changes every four years. In terms of leadership, I’m hopeful that [inaudible] will be two years but that’s to be seen. In any case, I think that it is difficult and it is a challenge in the way that NASA is structured, because some of these initiatives like getting to Mars, you really need to think through 10, 15, 20 years out in order for it to happen. And it’s hard for Presidents to think that far ahead and to be invested in something that happens outside of their tenure. That said, despite the limitation of the leadership turnaround, NASA has managed to accomplish extraordinary things over the past 60 years, and so something’s working.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Thank you. Next question from Turkey please.

Demet Sarova: My next question is you have been at the backstage of NASA, how did this environment make you feel?

Rory Kennedy: Well, I love talking to astronauts who have been to outer space because I think they’re really cool. And to, you know, hear about blasting off and then leaving our atmosphere, and having that perspective on Earth, and seeing this little ball in the vastness of space and the impact that that has on them is a really an extraordinary experience and a beautiful thing. And kind of the poetry and the – really awe of their ability to articulate their – the emotional experience; and the, you know, the deep love and connection to this planet was part of the, you know, part of the process I loved the most. I think it’s all so really – you know, I went to a lot of these space stations and centres of NASA, and to be at headquarters, to be at these locations where, you know, they have been interacting with space shuttles over the years, or with, you know, Apollo 13 or, you know, the moon after a launch, you know, it’s really cool and awe-inspiring as well. And then, you know, I go to places like the Johnson Space Center where they have a pool that can fit what is the equivalent of the International Space Station inside of it, and that they go diving, and to see these astronauts in these diving suits and how they stand in the water for six, seven, eight hours a day, and how they go about doing spacewalks and get trained for that, and the intensity of that training is so impressive, you know. So, it was fun to – for me to get that perspective and that behind the scenes.

You know, I remember doing an interview with Peggy Whitson while she was on the International Space Station going 17,000 miles around Earth, orbiting Earth. You know, so those are moments that I’ll never forget.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Thank you. The next question from Samvada Magazine[?].

Vanda Marques: Yes. I would like to ask did you have the opportunity to try any of those preparations like antigravity or something like that? And would you like to go on a journey out to space, would you be able to dream of you going to Mars if you were able to do something like this?

Rory Kennedy: I did some cool things. I mean I got into some spaceships that weren’t operating, and then I – but they were, you know, real spaceships. And I was able to, you know, go very close to the James Webb and the building of that which was – is really cool and impressive. I was – I was able to do some – you know, go to the pool and be witness to that experience and was really amazing. And then, you know, they have a kind of 3D programme that – a VR programme that they do which also helps them in the training and the communicating with astronauts in other countries. And so, I was able to do that. So, yeah, there were some of these things that I was able to be a part of. But in terms of going to space, I don’t think anybody wants me on a spaceship going to Mars. I’m a little – I don’t really like heights, I’m a little claustrophobic. I think I’m better off just making documentaries of everybody else –

Vanda Marques: Okay.

Rory Kennedy: I would like to have gone to space, but I don’t want to actually go to space.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Shall we have the next question from Ludmilla from Russia, please?

Ludmilla Arinchina: Thank you. [Inaudible] and did you meet any interesting people during the production and what did they say to you, and what surprised you?

Rory Kennedy: Yeah. So, I met a lot of interesting people. I mean, I would say, you know, I really have a love and administration for astronauts. So, I was able to interview people like Jim Lovell, who was the Commander of Apollo 13, and he was also on the first mission, Apollo mission that circumnavigated the moon, Apollo 8. And so, to hear first-hand from him about what those missions were like and those experiences was really amazing. You know, I interviewed a number of women astronauts, like Sunita Williams and Peggy Whitson, while she was on the ISS, which was really cool; Mark and Scott Kelly who were the identical twins. And spent – you know, the impact it has on the human body, and the studies that were done connected to that was really interesting to me.

And then, you know, there’s other people who are less known but are hugely important in terms of their innovations and ability to push the realm of what was considered possible and whether that’s, you know, people – the folks who helped get Curiosity to Mars and what it took to do that was amazing. A number of the administrators, people like Pete Gordon[?], who’s really working in the field of looking at the search for life in the universe, and how they’re going about that is fascinating to me. So, yeah, and endless number of fascinating people.

Naomi Powell-Brown: So, now we’re going to go to Marta from Newsweek for your last question.

Marta Tomaszkiewicz: Thank you. So, my last question, could you name five – maybe less, maybe more – five greatest NASA’s achievements, what do you think in your opinion?

Rory Kennedy: Five of the greatest NASA achievements? Okay, well, I would say getting us to the moon. Understanding our, you know, Voyager 1 and 2, which were launched starting in 1977, and really helped us understand our solar system I think was an extraordinary accomplishment. Certainly, the Hubble spacecraft – not spacecraft, telescope, and getting that into space is an extraordinary achievement. I think one of the images that I appreciate most coming from Hubble was the Deep Field, which looked – Hubble looked at a very dark part of the sky that was the size of a thumbnail, that they didn’t think anything was there. And they identified because of that image 10,000 new galaxies – and that was in the space, you know, in a part of the sky that was as big as a thumbnail. So, you know, they now have an understanding that there are so many more galaxies, 100 billion galaxies, and each galaxy has billions of stars. And the furthest galaxy that Hubble has detected is 13 billion light years away. You know, those are kind of crazy mind‑blowing notions and ideas that we now have an understanding of because of Hubble.

I think also, the Kepler spacecraft – telescope, and the identifying of the exoplanet which also, you know, they really didn’t have an understanding of the number of exoplanets that are in the universe, and now have a much deeper understanding of that.

And then I think everything we’ve learned about this planet and this – Earth, because of, you know, some combination of the – they’ve launched over two dozen satellites, there’s 19 operating right now that are helping to monitor the weather systems, they’re monitoring the fires, they’re monitoring the ice and the ice melt in the Arctic and Antarctica and Greenland ice sheet. You know, we know because of the studies, you know, of – that are coming out of NASA. We know that the temperatures increased one Celsius degree, and that we’ve had, you know, 14 of the 15 hottest years on record because – since 2000 – because of the research that NASA has done. They’ve also helped us understand what’s happening, you know, with the oceans and the amount of water that is getting sucked out of the ice sheet and going into the ocean. So, these are all innovations that – you know, and knowledge that we have about our own planet because of NASA.

Naomi Powell-Brown:  Sarah from DStv, your final question.

Sarah Borchert: Yes. I think looking ahead to the future, Rory, what do you think the next 60 years of NASA might bring? What are the – do you think there are any big breakthroughs on the horizon? Where is the agency going, what’s its direction?

Rory Kennedy: Well, I think that there’s a number of initiatives. So, I think the Mars mission is a serious one. I don’t know when exactly that happens, but they are pushing to innovate so that we could get to Mars and, importantly, get back from Mars. And that, you know, is a serious endeavour that is complicated but doable. So, I think that’s an exciting mission.

I think we’re really on the verge of finding life in the universe, and not only the universe but in our solar system. So, I’m excited about, you know, that is a mind-blowing idea. And I think that we will – I think we’ll find life in our solar system in our lifetime, if I had to guess, and that’s exciting. I think that – I think the James Webb is really promising as the next level of telescopes going out into the world that will be able to look back through time – it’s sort of considered a time machine –and it will be able to really see back to the beginnings of the universe and the Big Bang potentially. So, I think we’ll get a huge amount of information and knowledge out of the James Webb telescope.

And then, you know, my hope is that we will have – which, you know, we don’t have it right now –but we will have leadership that will really empower these scientists to help us further understand what’s happening to this planet and potentially ways to address it, you know, beyond limiting the amount of carbon. But I think we need to continue to innovate in terms of green energy. Right now, we have enough green innovation to light up and provide the electricity needed in – on the planet seven times over; but that we need, you know, in order to have that take over our electric grids and how they’re sourced right now, we really need the involvement of the scientific community. I think, you know, looking at innovations and questions of how to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere, that we should really unleash our scientists to take on that, and to continue their efforts to really monitor the carbon released and the health of this planet, and the seas, and every aspect of the vegetation and all around. So, I think that is, you know, to me the most important thing that we could do, given the urgency of climate change.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Marwa from Gulf News, your last question.

Marwa Hamad: Yeah. My last question would be, you know, going back to Above And Beyond, who do you think this movie is for?

Rory Kennedy: I think it’s for, you know, all humans on Earth. I think that this movie helps us understand our planet, it helps us understand our place in the universe, it’s hopefully entertaining, the engaging storytelling helps us also understand the – what’s happening with our planet and the urgency of protecting this planet, and what we humans can do to protect it. So, I, you know, I think it’s for a younger generation. You know, I’ve shown it to my children who – my youngest child in his class when he was nine or ten years old, and they ate it up, and I think it’s for them and the generations above to really understand what it means to explore, to go out into space, to challenge ourselves to do things that have never been done before, and it’s exciting on that level. And then I think it’s for older generations as well and people all – you know, this is not a film that is for people in the United States, even though NASA is an agency that was founded in the US – they’ve partnered with countries all over the world. And our understanding and knowledge comes from those partnerships, and that understanding and knowledge impacts all of us equally.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Thank you. Fatima, your last question.

Fatima Elidrissi: Yes. Well, unfortunately, Rory, [inaudible] John Kennedy or your father Bob Kennedy. So, I wanted to know if this documentary helped you get to know them better and what did you find out about them both, I mean professionally I assume, but also personally?

Rory Kennedy: Well, I would say that, you know, I’ve certainly become very intimate with the speech that my uncle gave at Rice University which I think was one of really his all-time great speeches he’s given – and has been given in history, frankly. And, you know, the [inaudible] to have that vision, you know, in 1962 to get us to the moon within the decade when we had no rocket ships that could get us outside of Earth’s atmosphere. We really had no knowledge of what it would mean to build the spacecraft, how it would impact astronauts, how we would get them back. You know, so I certainly have a deeper appreciation because of what that leadership moment entailed for my uncle, John F Kennedy, in the making of this.

But, I mean, frankly, my father was less involved in this particular endeavour. So, I did make a film called Ethel, about my mother, where that was more part of that journey.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Thank you. Last question from Turkey.

Demet Sarova: Yeah. My last question is about the documentary. What is the main enlightenment for the viewer, if we need to sum up?

Rory Kennedy: Well, I think that, you know, to me this film is really an opportunity to inspire people to understand what it means to explore, to go into outer space, to push human limits. And I think that is a great message that NASA has given to all of us over these many years. I think it also is an example of what happens when you have great leadership and when we work together not only within the United States but outside of the US and partner with people all over the world to tap into the best in all of us.

You know, in the – in his initial speech at Rice University, John F Kennedy said we choose to go to the moon in this decade not because it is easy but because it is hard, and because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills. And I think that speaks to this idea of tapping into the best in all of us to bring forth something greater than any individual can do alone. And I think that’s a poignant message for today. And then lastly, the, you know, the reminder of what these scientists are telling us in very scientific terms based on data of what is happening to our own planet. And I think that what one of the things NASA has learned over the years is in the exploration of our solar system and our galaxy and the universe, the further we’ve got now, the deeper we’ve gone into space the greater appreciation there has been for this planet and the preciousness of this planet and how unique it is; and, frankly, how unfriendly space is to humans.

So, you know, we only have this planet. And we have searched for life, and we have searched for other planets like this, and to date we haven’t found any. And I think the lesson there is, you know, in part, to do what we can to make sure we protect this planet.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Vanda, last question from you, please.

Vanda Marques: Yes, thank you. Your projects are very different, you have NASA, you talked about Ethel. But, in a way, they also connect in some political way [inaudible] world, human rights. How do you choose your projects, and also why did you become a director?

Rory Kennedy: Well, I can’t say there’s a total logic to my choices in filmmaking, films and subject matter other than they all are of great interest to me. You know, it’s hard to make a film; it’s hard to make a documentary.

Vanda Marques: Okay, thank you.

Rory Kennedy: It takes a good amount of time, at least a year – this one took two years. And I have young children and, you know, so I have to make those choices to leave my children to go do this kind of work. I mean, I do it for a range of reasons, but I really need to feel passionate about it and excited about it. So, they all have done that for me.

And I chose to become a filmmaker because I love storytelling, I think that it can really have an impact. And I think through these individual stories you can reach an audience on an emotional level, and help them understand issues and ideas through a true – you know, the human perspective that can be lasting and expand their knowledge, and also maybe their hearts a little to understanding, you know, and deepening their sense of compassion for others which I think we can all – you know, certainly it’s been my experience in making these films, and hopefully it translates in the screening of them.

Naomi Powell-Brown: And then finally, last question from Ludmilla from Russia, if you have any more questions.

Ludmilla Arinchina: You know, Rory, you answered all my questions in some way. So, thank you a lot.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Okay, perfect.

Rory Kennedy: And, I’d like to acknowledge with the Russians the amazing Soyuz. And it’s – I know it’s been a – I think, politically speaking, our countries haven’t – had struggled over the last many years but in space we do quite well.

Naomi Powell-Brown: Thank you. If any – for anyone else that’s still on the line, thank you so much for your time and patience today.

Rory Kennedy: Thank you all, nice talking to you.

Ludmilla Arinchina: Thank you, Rory.

Rory Kennedy: Bye.


Coming Up On Carte Blanche – 14 October 2018

M-Net & M-Net HD [101], Sunday 14 October 2018 at 19:00 & again on M-Net Plus 1 [901] at 20:00



KwaZulu-Natal Oncology Crisis

As the KZN Health Department continues to struggle to provide adequate oncology services in public facilities, a leaked report estimates that as many as 6000 to 8000 State patients are unable to access treatment and it would cost over R1 billion to fix the problems. With an estimated 500 people already dead due to the massive backlog of cancer care in the province and the demand for radiation oncology services only escalating, can the Department find solutions to put an end to this devastating crisis?

Producer: Carol Albertyn Christie
Presenter: Claire Mawisa

The Space Kingdom of Asgardia

A loopy fantasy for space nerds – or a legitimate thought experiment in how human life could be organised beyond earth? Named after the mythical Norse home of the gods, the Space Kingdom of Asgardia with the 273 647 citizens who have already signed up from around the world, was founded two years ago by Russian billionaire – former media and defence mogul Dr Igor Ashurbeyli, now the so-called Head of State. With a flag and anthem, Asgardia owns a bread loaf-sized piece of space real estate in the form of a satellite. The kingdom also projects a future where colonies might be formed on the moon or other celestial bodies – with the aim of examining how human society can exist without any of Earth’s conflicts. Carte Blanche meets South African Asgardians who are hoping to make their mark in space.

Producer: Michael Duffet
Presenter: Claire Mawisa
Watch the trailer

The OLX gang

What are the risks of advertising your vehicle for sale online? For some unsuspecting sellers it turned into a dangerous trap involving illicit diamonds, kidnapping and extortion by a highly organised gang. In a risky undercover sting operation, Carte Blanche joined forces with a specialised police unit to unmask and arrest a major syndicate specialising in violent hostage taking, diamond smuggling and robbery.

Producer: Graham Coetzer
Presenter: Macfarlane Moleli

Climate Change

Global warming means the earth is getting hotter and hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters are becoming more frequent. Now, humanity may have to start preparing for a future, living in a hothouse, much sooner than we thought.  Climate research confirms what many experts have long been warning about: the earth might be on an irreversible path to a scorching future. But what does research conducted in the Arctic Circle tell us about how soon we’ll get there?  Carte Blanche explores the very real impact of global warming.

Producer: John Webb
Presenter: John Webb
Watch the trailer

Line-ups are subject to change. Stories can be viewed at

Facebook: Carte Blanche #CarteBlanche
Twitter: @carteblanchetv #CarteBlanche
Instagram: @carteblanchetv #CarteBlanche
WeChat: ID: carteblanchetv


Coming Up On Carte Blanche – 7 October 2018

M-Net & M-Net HD [101], Sunday 7 October 2018 at 19:00 & again on M-Net Plus 1 [901] at 20:00



Fuel Hikes

Since January this year South Africans have experienced five fuel price increases and the October hike has brought the price to a record high of over R17 per litre. Experts say that the weaker rand and higher crude oil prices are some of the contributing factors and forecast another hike in November. But there is also the hidden cost of levies added to the fuel price, which have increased dramatically since 2008. Carte Blanche asks: what could be done to grant motorists some much-needed relief at the pumps?

Producer: Sophia Phirippides
Presenter: Derek Watts

Awaiting Trial Prisoners

Wrongfully arrested, not charged and left to sit in prison for years. That’s the nightmare facing thousands of awaiting-trial prisoners, who haven’t had their day in court. Under South African law, every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but with over-booked courts, a lack of State-sponsored lawyers and lost dockets, men and women who’ve been arrested for crimes they didn’t commit, can spend years languishing in the overburdened prison system. Carte Blanche investigates.

Producer: Tarryn Crossman
Presenter: Macfarlane Moleli
Watch the trailer

East Rand Police Brutality

Have Ekhuruleni police become a law unto themselves? Reports of motorists arrested on false charges, then extorted for bribes and assaulted by police while in custody, persist. Now Carte Blanche investigates the lawyer that some police officers recommend to get you out of jail or persuade the prosecutor to drop charges – all for a sizeable fee.

Producer: Kate Barry
Presenter: Devi Sankaree Govender
Journalist: Siniketiwe Hlanze
Watch the trailer

Gourmet Insects

With millions of people added to the world’s population every year, food production is not keeping up. Land for agriculture is diminishing and oceans are overfished. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates a billion people are chronically hungry and that insects, which offer valuable sources of fat, protein and fibre, could be the next viable source of nutrition.  Carte Blanche meets innovative local chefs who are creating gourmet insect recipes to prepare.

Producer: Stenette Grosskopf
Presenter: Claire Mawisa

Line-ups are subject to change. Stories can be viewed at

Facebook: Carte Blanche #CarteBlanche
Twitter: @carteblanchetv #CarteBlanche
Instagram: @carteblanchetv #CarteBlanche
WeChat: ID: carteblanchetv



Canada In The Spotlight As Guest Country At DISCOP Johannesburg 2018

DISCOP, the leading content, adaptation right and project market dedicated to Africa and the Middle East, today announces that Canada will the Guest Country of its Johannesburg edition slated from 14 to 16 November.

This announcement was made possible thanks to the Canada Media Fund (CMF) and the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), an agency of the the Department of Arts and Culture of the Republic of South Africa, who have launched a dedicated incentive for the co-development of audiovisual projects between Canadian producers and South African producers.

The total amount of funding available through the Incentive is approximately CAD $120,000 or ZAR 1,200,000 with each funding organization contributing half of the funds.

“In the past 20 years, we’ve seen content produced between Canadian and South African creators hit international markets with great commercial success and critical acclaim. Producers in both countries have partnered to tell stories that are culturally-relevant to audiences in both countries and around the world,” said Valerie Creighton, President and CEO, CMF. “Through our matching fund with the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa, we have further enabled the development of strong partnerships between producers in both countries. As we aim to create yet more partnerships between Canadian and South African producers, we look forward to participating in DISCOP Johannesburg 2018 where Canada will be Guest Country.”

NFVF Acting CEO, Shadrack Bokaba has this to say of the partnership, “The relationship between South Africa and Canada is very special, it was the first audio-visual co-production treaty to be signed, stemming from shared values of equality, democracy, peace, security and prosperity. The treaty has allowed the union between South Africa and Canada to continue to grow and forge new partnerships while cementing and enhancing old ones. The recently renewed Canada Media Fund partnerships is one such partnership aimed at fostering the development of content that is able to travel and find audiences across the globe.

It is therefore encouraging to witness South African content markets like DISCOP honour the relationship in this manner. We look forward to creating more opportunities for collaboration.”

The tribute to Canada will be marked by the presence of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation who will be in Johannesburg to present PANORA.TV its new B2B online platform facilitating transactions, from searching and shopping, to contract generation, payment processing and content delivery.

Canadian producers and government representatives attending DISCOP Johannesburg 2018, including André Ferreira, Communication Manager of the CMF, will be hosted at the “MADE IN CANADA PAVILION”, a networking and communications hub that will provide visibility and market exposure to Canadian delegates.

Two important sessions scheduled in the context of DISCOP’s sidebar NEXT GEN development and knowledge-transfer program will also examine coproduction and distribution opportunities between Canada and South Africa.

1500+ delegates are expected to take part in DISCOP Johannsburg 2018 including 400+ acquisition and development executives representing broadcasters, premium cable channels, mobile operators and streaming platforms operating in Sub-Saharan Africa and 200+ global and regional distributors will also be at the market to showcase their latest offerings and seek new representation deals.

In a move to accelerate the development of a sustainable production and distribution ecosystem across Africa and the Middle East, DISCOP content, adaptation right and project markets are held several times a year in strategic regional industry hubs.

For more information,


Dame Judi Dench On Her Passion For Trees

Judi Dench already has an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and 13 BAFTAs, but there’s one award she’s never won: the Wildscreen Panda Award, the ‘Green Oscars’ of the international wildlife film and TV industry.

This may change this month, as she’s nominated as Best Presenter for Judi Dench: My Passion For Trees, now first and only on Showmax in South Africa. In her first ever documentary, Judi embarks on a magical journey to uncover the mysteries about one of her greatest passions: trees.

“My life now is just trees. Trees and champagne,” says Judi. ““I shall give up acting and lecture on trees, quite soon.”

Judi has long been fascinated with trees; ever since she was a child she has objected to anyone cutting them down. She shared her passion for trees with her late husband, the actor Michael Williams, and together they turned her six-acre garden into their own arboretum. For the past seven years she has continued to care for this woodland with her close companion, wildlife enthusiast David Mills.

Throughout this time, Judi has continually planted and named trees for dear friends and family who have passed, like Natasha Richardson and Alan Rickman.

“Planting trees is about remembering, and something that is living, that goes on,” says Judi. “So you don’t just remember loved ones and stop, you remember them and the memory goes on, and it gets more wonderful.”

In the documentary, Judi talks to some of the best tree scientists and historians in the world to unlock the remarkable secret lives of trees. With the latest scientific techniques and equipment at her disposal, she is able to truly understand how trees work, and gain an insight into their secrets.

For example, she uses a specially designed microphone to hear the trees around her pulsing with life, as water rushes up the trunks to the newly unfurled leaves, while 3D scanning technology allows her to see her favourite oak in a new light – revealing the fact that it is 200 years old, with 260 000 leaves and over 12km of branches. And by analysing NASA satellite imagery, Judi discovers just how effective trees are as carbon capture machines that are fighting to protect our planet.

“By combining cutting-edge filming techniques with real science, we helped Judi experience a side to trees that few people have ever seen before,” says producer Anthony Geffen. “Most of us pass trees every day and never give them a second thought. This film challenges us on that.”

Judi also investigates the very foundation of trees – their roots – learning about an intricate underground fungi network that connects many trees in a forest together, an incredible system known as the ‘wood wide web.’

She learns more about how trees can communicate and contribute to the forest, sharing resources with seedlings or the vulnerable. It’s confirmation for Judi that trees aren’t just trees, they are a real community that help each other, humans and the planet.

“When I plant trees in memory of my friends, I always hope that they would feel part of a community. That they would be communicating with each other,” says Judi. “And now, it’s so reassuring to find out that it’s true.”

Judi Dench: My Passion For Trees is made by the multi-BAFTA and Emmy award-winning team behind BBC hits such as Inside the Commons, David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef, and Galapagos.

“Working with Judi on her first documentary has been an absolute delight,” says Anthony. “Audiences will experience a side to Judi they won’t have ever seen before: her love for trees, her passion for learning and her wonderful sense of humour.”

“I shall never be able to walk nonchalantly through a woodland again without thinking about all of the incredible work that is going on under there,” says Judi. “We think we live in a society, but it is no comparison to what goes on between trees, and how these chaps live. It’s mind-blowing. It’s wonderful and very exciting. I don’t know how I lived so long without knowing more about my passion, but I know now.”