He made films before, he made films since, and he even made films during, but Inside Saturn’s Rings could be described as Greensboro-based filmmaker Stephen van Vuuren’s magnum opus, a dazzling chronicle of the Cassini-Huygens research mission, which marked the most extensive research of the planet Saturn to date – and which took van Vuuren over 15 years to complete.

The documentary, narrated by award-winning actor LeVar Burton, made its premiere in 2018 and became an instant sensation, hailed by audiences and critics alike. The film enjoyed further acclaim when it was screened at the 2019 RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem.

This Friday, viewers who have not yet experienced In Saturn’s Rings or wish to do so again can purchase tickets for a virtual screening that will take place at 2 p.m. Tickets are $17.75 and can be purchased online.

Van Vuuren admitted it’s difficult for him to watch the film with absolute objectivity. “It’s impossible to summarize a film that has taken 15-plus years, worked on by hundreds of volunteers, consumed nearly a petabyte of data, and nearly 40 million files,” he said. “For me, the film has become its own entity. My own feelings are complex: It’s profoundly changed – for the better – several key people who worked on it, has been seen on the giant screen by over 100,000 people to date, and it appears to currently be one of the highest-ranked films in its genre (giant-screen short documentary) on IMDB.”

Much as his impetus for making the film was to bring more attention to the Cassini-Huygens mission, his inspiration to present virtual screenings of Inside Saturn’s Rings had a personal element.

“Key family members and friends have never seen it at all, and now with COVID-19, the older and more infirm ones may never see it,” he said. “The film’s distributor is very small and the post-COVID world for giant-screen and planetarium films is very unknown. I simply don’t know how it will fare in years to come.”

The screening will be preceded by the filmmaker’s introduction, and will be followed by a Q&A session with several of the key personnel instrumental in making the film, including van Vuuren, producers Bill Eberly and Jason Harwell, key adviser and technical consultant Mike Malaska, key science adviser Dr. Steve Danford, key educational lead and consultant Tim Martin, and composer Pieter Schlosser. (Additional participants may be added closer to the screening.)

Actually, van Vuuren admitted, “I am still working on this. We are rendering a “native full-dome” version which means going through every shot in the current “giant-screen format” and re-composing, re-animating, and re-rendering for the 360-degree full-dome at 8K resolution at 30 frames per second. We expect to have the full-dome finished by the end of this year but (we’re) not sure if it will have a theatrical world to open to.”

Regarding other future projects, “I do have scripts and shorts for films beyond In Saturn’s Rings underway, but COVID-19 had also shelved those,” he lamented.

For more information, visit the official website.

See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2020, Mark Burger.

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