As research for the film, Claire Denis went together with members of the cast and crew to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Astronaut Centre in Cologne. At the ESA, Denis said that she saw the “Soyuz, [a] Russian little capsule that is still used. You [might] say [it is] low-tech, and it is incredible; it’s like a camping tent, you know? […] I asked [why] and they said, till today there is no better way because this is heavy technology from the ’80s and it’s very solid. And I thought, wow this is great.” Together with the art director, Denis conceived of a sort of jail ship, rather than a spaceship for outer space conquest. Laura André-Boyet, the ESA’s Astronaut Instructor, worked with HIGH LIFE cast and crew. Laure Monrréal, the film’s first assistant director, was looking for a French human spaceflight expert and approached André-Boyet to help. We emailed with André-Boyet about her experience working with Claire Denis and the HIGH LIFE team.
Science & Film: What was Claire Denis curious to learn from you?
Laura André-Boyet: I had the feeling that Claire was interested in a lot of things, especially the “small” ones–the details. The representation most people have of Human Spaceflight Exploration is usually provided by movies or documentaries. Despite this fascination with Space activities, it remains a hard to access professional environment. Therefore, I think Claire was interested in what people don’t necessarily see or already know. She was very focused on humans, the crew, and how life really is on-board the International Space Station: what are the dynamics, the rhythm, how do astronauts train, how do they solve problems, what are the difficulties, what is hard… in other words, what is the hidden face of Human Spaceflight? One would have to be very optimistic to hope to bring all the answers to these questions! As invaluable support, Jean-François Clervoy, French Astronaut, offered time to recount some stories from his three space flights and gave advice to the HIGH LIFE team. I myself provided assistance whenever needed all along the project.
Not only did Claire come to the European Space Agency, but lots of her team members including the main actors did as well. They were taken on a tour starting with the History of Human Spaceflight, followed by some presentations on how humans travel nowadays from Earth to the International Space Station and back. The group was introduced to the several installations used for astronaut training: diving-pool, mockups, flight-like systems, and experiment payloads. They were also introduced with the basics of ground commanding as well as the tools used to schedule and follow crew activities. Finally, they were brought into a more immersive environment to perform some real crew on-board experiments. It was important for them to get familiar with the real procedures, protocols, and equipment, and to discover why we need to produce Space environment scientific data for the future of Human Spaceflight.
Read more at Museum of Moving Image – Sloan Science and Film!