Documentary May 19 a unique look at an artist and an astronaut

Documentary May 19 a unique look at an artist and an astronaut
April Wallace

It’s not very often that you have the opportunity to see a documentary in a theater setting around here. It’s even less common to see one that features an artist who lived in and showed her work in Northwest Arkansas, among other local connections, but that’s exactly what you can expect at the Arkansas debut of “The Artist and The Astronaut.”

The award-winning film about artist and civil rights activist Pat Musick, her husband, Apollo astronaut Jerry Carr, and their respective experiences through many historic moments over the course of six decades will be shown at the Walton Arts Center May 19 as part of Artosphere.

Director Bill Muench and music composer Todd Hobin, who created the film’s score, will answer questions from the audience following the screening.

Bill Muench was a high school teacher and basketball coach in Vermont when an astronaut came to town.

He was teaching a course about space exploration at the time, so “everyone said, ‘You have to meet the astronaut!’” Muench says by Zoom. Muench did, and became friends with Carr’s wife, sculpture artist Pat Musick.

In 2016, he and his wife traveled to Bentonville for Musick’s 90th birthday celebration at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, where Musick’s work was and still is shown. On the way back, as Muench thought about the many unique experiences she and her husband had lived through, he said, “Somebody has to do a documentary on these people.” His wife said, “You should.”

Muench spent the next four years interviewing the couple, numerous other Apollo astronauts, NASA directors, artists, art historians, authors and a member of President Nixon’s administration to compile the film — when he wasn’t teaching and coaching, that is.

The task took him to nine states and two continents, and he did it all himself — the cameras, the audio, the lights, the interviews, the editing.

Then he reached out to musician Todd Hobin. Muench had been a lifelong fan of his and sent a rough cut of the film. He asked Hobin if he would be interested in creating music for it.

“My wife and I saw the film in its infancy,” Todd Hobin says by Zoom. “Bill is just an incredible storyteller, and (it shows) these two people we had never really heard of, but it was like they were everywhere.”

The two joke that this couple is a bit like Forrest Gump in their showing up at major points in U.S. history. Through the film, you see them at the beginning of the space program; you double back to the Trail of Tears, which is what they spent their latter years making art about; you see them during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War; and through the events of 1968, when President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. are assassinated. You see them through campus protests and Apollo missions.

“Jerry commanded the longest mission that Apollo had, and at that time nobody was even paying attention,” Muench says. The importance became more clear as the years went on and longer missions became the norm. But for years, Jerry Carr held the record for spending the most time in space.

“The Artist and The Astronaut” also has never-before-seen footage from the space program, like that of Christa McAuliffe, who died in the Challenger disaster.

“When people see this film, they’re usually just stunned at the visuals because nobody’s ever seen this footage,” Hobin says. “They’re looking at images of these people back in the 1960s and talking about themselves 60 years later. It’s a look at history that most people don’t get ever.”

It also shows how critical all these major events and experiences were and how they changed Carr and Musick into the activists for environmental and social change that they became.

“When (Carr) got up in space, he changed from a ‘cold warrior’ to someone who felt that he needs to let people know … to take care of this planet that we all live on,” Muench says.



‘The Artist and The Astronaut’

WHEN — 7 p.m. May 19

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — Free, but tickets required



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