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Cielo

There are numerous images of transcendent beauty in Cielo, the feature debut from Canadian filmmaker Alison McAlpine. True to its title (Spanish for “sky” or “heaven”), the movie spends a good portion of its running time contemplating the firmament above Northern Chile’s Atacama Desert, using time-lapse cameras to create a visual symphony of the moon, stars, sun and clouds as they move through the wild blue yonder.

Poster for the big-screen astronomy doc CieloSeen on a big screen, these images – the work of cinematographer Benjamin Echazarreta – have a transporting power that comes close to approximating what it must be like to actually stand in Atacama, gazing up in awe. Shooting stars fly by like paint slashes on a cosmic canvas. The vapour trail from a plane acts as the sole cloud in an otherwise clear azure sky. Even the Milky Way itself rotates through the heavens with breathtaking clarity.

The pictures by themselves would almost be enough, but McAlpine has a more wide-ranging portrait in mind. Interwoven with her out-of-this-world visuals are several on-the-ground profiles of astronomers who work in Atacama, as well as other people (cowboys, miners, algae collectors) who live there year-round. Whether intellectual or proletarian, McAlpine’s subjects remain distinctly and defiantly themselves even as they look, star-struck, to the great beyond.

– Keith Uhlich, The Hollywood Reporter

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