We knock nostalgia a lot anymore; the continual need to chase the past while sometimes forgetting that the now is a pretty great place to be. But Jay Cheel’s unconventional, poignant documentary, How to Build a Time Machine, touches on the notion of reminiscence in a way that outlines how previous events in our lives can dictate the fixations that currently drive us. Cheel’s dual subjects – obsessive hobbyist, Robert Niosi, and theoretical physicist, Ronald Mallett – are both driven by memories of their fathers, resulting in respective life paths that are unusual and fascinating.
Niosi’s theater usher pop took him to see George Pal’s The Time Machine (’60) when he was a boy, leading the stop motion animator to relentlessly recreate the throne-like sled at the center of Pal’s cinematic adaptation of HG Wells’ tale. Simultaneously, Mallett explains how losing his beloved dad to a heart attack at the age of eleven pushed him toward a permanent obsession with time travel, his pining to see his papa one last time too great to ever let go. Similarly falling head over heels for Wells’ writing, Mallett enlisted in the U.S. Air Force with the sole intention of paying for a higher education that would allow him to explore the possibility of traversing the fourth dimension.
Check out the trailer real quick:
Cheel’s work is a brisk, engaging, handsome piece of filmmaking – less about the mechanics of moving through a wormhole, and more about the motivations these men have harbored for the majority of their existence. It’s the type of tiny, personal non-fiction expression that’s rare outside of the festival circuit, which is why you should catch the picture this Sunday at the Cinefamily. This is the closest you’re going to get to seeing this generation’s version of an Errol Morris, as Cheel seems completely infatuated with his subjects, while also unforgiving regarding how much time they may have wasted due to these unique preoccupations. This is a special screening opportunity, as the film does not have distribution yet. So, watch it with an audience while you’ve got a chance, instead of stumbling across it on Netflix a year from now, alone in your living room.