‘Cielo’ Offers A Stunning Vision of the Night Sky (FILM REVIEW)


It’s strange to think how easy it is to take for granted something as omnipresent as the sky. In today’s world of selfies and screenshots, where productivity and output is job number one, where keeping your nose down and eyes on the prize is valued above everything else, it’s not as hard as you might believe to forget to take a moment—or several—and look up.

Skyward lies a vast doorway to mysteries of existence; the illumination of unthinkable numbers of torches light the pathway of life spills down on us always. Guiding us, inspiring us, lighting us. It is from them that we spring—as Carl Sagan once opined, “We are all made of star stuff.” And yet, like the newly emancipated young adult who wants nothing to do with the comforts of home and their progenitors, we forget to respect that which made us possible.

Harder still for those of us who live in cities, where the artificial light of our lives dulls the night sky to its most basic, least inspiring form. It’s easy then to ignore the grandeur and to forget the beauty that dwells always just above us. In a way, it’s like losing a connection with our history and with ourselves. So blinded are we by the glow of manmade luminescence that our collective memory of nature’s most beautiful canvas dulls into nothingness.

Alison McAlpine’s stunning new documentary, Cielo, is like a gallon of ice cold water poured on us, the sleeping masses, opening our eyes to what we so often forget to see, or even consider. McAlpine take us deep into the Atacama Desert in Chile, location of several astronomical observatories and telescopes, to remind us—or, in some cases, show us for the first time—of the complex beauty of existence.

Balancing stunning time lapse video of the night sky with interviews of those who live and work in Atacama, Cielo is less a film than it is a poem, capturing nature at her most naked and beautiful. Like any good poem, Cielo is quietly breathtaking, taking you on an outward journey that leads you down a path to your innermost spaces.

Words fail to do the film much justice; unlike many documentaries, those no narrative strung together, no real purpose to speak of. It really is, as its name suggests, just the sky.

“Just the sky.” What an odd concept. As if anything so vast and all encompassing could ever be “just” anything. And yet, that’s almost the role it plays in our daily existence. As much as the sky might be something that we see every day, how long has it been since any of us have taken the time to really look at it? To gaze into the depths of existence and just appreciate it?

Probably too long. What Cielo does best is remind us of what we’ve been missing, concerned as we are with the mundane moments that make up our lives. While the film might not hold the interest of some—without a narrative to string things together, some filmgoers might balk or shun the work—it’s a powerful reminder of all that we miss and all that we take for granted in our modern lives. Though it’s still just a simulacrum, and never as beautiful as seeing the sky with your own eyes, it’s difficult to walk away from Cielo without a new appreciation for the majestic feeling we can get just for looking up.

Cielo is playing in LA and NY; it plays in Seattle and Denver starting in September.

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