40 MINUTES 1985 AND 2018
In 1985 I was a grad student in MIT's Film/Video Section getting ready to shoot my thesis film about an MIT experimental astrophysics lab.
The grad students and professors asked, "What's the story?" I said I didn't know, since I hadn't started filming yet. This seemed to satisfy everyone, so I carried on for five months, filming Dr Rainer Weiss, and his four grad students - Andy Cumming, Dan Dewey, Jeff Livas and Lyman Page - as they built a prototype gravity wave antenna and studied for their general exams.
In a traditional science documentary the filmmakers interlace testimony by scientists with narration; the scientists are there in support of the film's educational agenda. In GRAVITY, however, the scientists are the film.
RAINER WEISS, ANDY CUMMING, DAN DEWEY,
JEFF LIVAS AND LYMAN PAGE
GRAVITY also includes an argument between Einstein and Newton, some handy cartoons and testimony by famed theoretical physicist Dr. Victor Weisskopf. He notes that "if Rai finds a gravity wave, he will win the Nobel Prize."
Documentarian Ricky Leacock was my film teacher at the time; he taught me to trust my senses, to fall in love with my film subjects. He also said, It's OK to laugh: this is important.
In 1985 I finished the film then shoved it to the back of the closet.
Three of the four graduate students followed diverging pathways while Rai and Jeff stuck with gravity wave measurement.
The prototype eventually led to LIGO, thousands of scientists building several 4k long gravity wave antennas.
Thirty years went by.
In September, 2015, Dr. Rainer Weiss, along with Kip Thorne and Barry Barish, detected one,
an actual gravity wave.
And in October, 2017, all three scientists received the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics.
We celebrated, with my joy tempered only by the fact that Ricky had died in 2011. He surely would have laughed once again at the news.
GRAVITY ends with the prototype antenna experiments completed, the lab is demolished and the antenna is wrapped in plastic for permanent storage.
THE PROTOTYPE IN 1985
In the summer of 2018 I will shoot an EPILOGUE. First, a scene of Rai Weiss unwrapping the prototype gravity wave antenna.
Then, in August, all four erstwhile graduate students will convene in Rai's MIT lab to check out myriad LIGO instruments. At that point too we'll get updates on where the scientists landed after 35 years, each with his own epic journey.