BWW Review: In POINT OF NO RETURN, The Sun Is Man's Co-Pilot
The transcendent moments in world history have been driven by extraordinary individuals who have dared to cross the boundaries of the unknown, to test preconceived notions and limitations, and to prove that what many thought was impossible is in truth inevitable.
In POINT OF NO RETURN, filmmakers Quinn Kanaly and Noel Dockstader document the ambitious journey of two such pioneering spirits, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, to fly around the Earth in a solar-powered zero-fuel plane named Solar Impulse.
Borschberg is an engineer, an entrepreneur, and a former fighter pilot in the Swiss Air Force.
Piccard, self-defined as an inspioneer and serial explorer, is a psychiatrist, descended from a family tradition of exploration. His grandfather Auguste, in 1931, was the first to explore the upper atmosphere in helium-filled balloons and witness the Earth's curvature; his father Jacques, in 1960, was the first person to dive to the deepest location in the world, the Challenger Deep. (Note of interest: Auguste was the inspiration for Gene Roddenberry's naming of the Starship Enterprise's one-c captain.)
While their backgrounds and skills are different, they are brothers and complements in a shared mission to alter the world view about solar power. Where Icarus failed to appreciate the Sun's power, Piccard and Borschberg embrace the Sun on a behalf of a transcendent cause. The goal of the flight is "not to transport passengers but to transport a message" ~ the imperative to develop solutions that will protect and preserve the environment.
The message is conveyed in a documentary that is as dramatic and thrilling as any cinematic space odyssey. The suspense of every leg of the flight ~ every setback, every risk, every defiance of the odds ~ from liftoff in Abu Dhabi on June 28th, 2015 to landing on July 26th, 2016 is palpable.
The vivid cinematography of Mathieu Czernichow, Yoann Le Gruiec, Daniel Meyers, Payam Azadi, and Noel Dockstader captures the intensity of the emotions of the pilots and the crews, the excitement of the waiting crowds at each stopover, and the color and texture of each destination.
Remarkably, watching the pilots and mission control crew manage the technological details and calculations of the flight is fascinating and tension-filled ~ enough so that the film has its nail-biting edge-of the-seat moments as changing weather patterns, particularly over the Pacific, and mechanical glitches challenge the flight's survival.
There are moments of glory and humor as well. On the one wing, a welcoming message from the Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, that conveys the congratulations of the international community on the same day ~ Earth Day! ~ that 175 countries signed the Paris climate accord. On another wing, an impromptu advertisement from the cockpit for hybrid motor automobiles after overlooking the smog from cars trapped in a traffic jam and spewing exhaust. (Phoenicians will appreciate the stopover at the airplane boneyard at Phoenix Goodyear Airport.)
POINT OF NO RETURN is a must-see documentary that not only inspires but also offers a powerful wake-up call to action that resonates in its title. There is a point in the flight over the Pacific beyond which Solar Impulse cannot go without grave risk. There is a point in mankind's journey on earth beyond which the damage to the planet is irreversible. The good news is that Piccard and Borschberg's mission continues with the formation of the Solar Impulse Foundation and the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions. The journey is by no means over.
Credit for photo of André Borschberg to POINT OF NO RETURN