AFF Review: The History of Time Travel

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The History of Time Travel Still Photo

“If you think Hitler with an atomic bomb is bad, imagine Stalin with a time machine.”

As discussed in Austin Film Festival panel "Science Fiction Versus Science Fact," much of fiction is driven by the "What if?" In his feature directorial debut The History of Time Travel, Stephen F. Austin State University student filmmaker Ricky Kennedy takes on the high concept of time travel and the consequences of its use on both personal and world events. Kennedy wrote, directed and edited this fictional documentary, which premiered at AFF.

Filmed entirely on location in Nacogdoches, Texas, The History of Time Travel is presented as a well-constructed docudrama, relating the fictional story of the Indiana Project and the biography of a key contributor, physicist Edward Page (Daniel May). This project is the United States response to reports that Hitler was less interested in nuclear weapons after his scientists began exploring time travel as an ultimate power. Page works long hours for decades, neglecting his wife Anne (Elizabeth Lestina) and son Richard in the hopes of achieving one of man's greatest desires: the ability to travel through time and alter events in one's favor.

World War II, The Cold War, the presidential elections of both the 1960s and present day -- how would each of these events and subsequent reality be affected? As interviewee and science-fiction writer Kevin Ulrich (Michael Tubbs) states, "We experience time as we perceive it, but if time could be altered and was being altered, would we perceive that?" That's just one of the hooks of The History of Time Travel.

The story of the Page family unfolds over and over throughout the re-telling of their critical role in The Indiana Project, engaging viewers in the heart of this exemplary film. The statement made within the movie that best captures this essence is "The Indiana Project teaches us what is truly important about time -- and that's making every second count." I was emotionally moved by the final moments of this "documentary." The characterization of both the documentary's subjects and interviewees is well developed, and the entire cast is well suited for their roles.

The score for The History of Time Travel by Herbert Midgley is well matched for both the documentary style and the emotional drama that develops throughout the film. The production design would seem quite challenging with the re-enactments spanning nearly a century, but I could find no major flaw in the costume or set design.

Over the course of three years and multiple writing phases, Kennedy has crafted an intelligent approach to controversial theories in The History of Time Travel. He effectively tackles the discussion by setting up his subjects, including astrophysicist Dr. Jack Fincher (Peyton Paulette,) to describe two arguments: the multiverse with multiple alternate timelines versus fixed timeline theory and the possibility of paradoxes. What remains unanswered is the possibility of an infinite loop, but more importantly, the moral implication of altering time.

Die-hard science fiction fans may be tempted to pick apart the time travel theories presented in The History of Time Travel as they have with Back to the Future and Looper, but this film is deserving of an audience willing to suspend disbelief, and embrace it wholeheartedly and with an open mind. As Kennedy stated in an interview with the Austin Film Festival:

"Time travel by its very nature is not logical -- it's impossible to make something illogical into something logical. So the idea with a time travel story is to make it seem like it's logical, at least for the duration of the film's running time. If I've done my job well, you will suspend disbelief and just accept the story."

Kennedy's use of stock and archival footage obtained from public domain and Creative Commons material combined with realistic interviews is exemplary. However, it is the subtle nuances introduced within the film that really hook the viewers. Without spoilers, I will recommend that you watch for changes in the interviewees as well as their surroundings throughout this film. This unique element will have me watching The History of Time Travel over and over again.

Watch the trailer for The History of Time Travel below: