Creating the documentary “Black Sun”

This is a guest post by Dr. Jarita Holbrook, who often describes herself as an astrophysicist who went to the Dark Side.  Shortly after completing her doctorate, she dove into the world of the social sciences, quickly establishing expertise on indigenous astronomy. She moved to UCLA for her NSF project focused on studying underrepresented groups in astronomy and their career networks.

My goal is to make documentaries about minority astrophysicists who go to amazing places to collect data. I like to make films that challenge and broaden the standard astronomy documentary. I hope that I achieved this with my other documentary film ‘Hubble’s Diverse Universe’ and want to do it again with ‘Black Sun’, my new documentary project, which follows two African American astrophysicists: Hakeem Oluseyi and Alphonse Sterling. Both scientists study the solar atmosphere.

The climax of “Black Sun” will be their observations of the upcoming total solar eclipse in November 2012. My producer asked me, “What happens if the weather is bad?”  My answer, “They go home.”  Very dramatic, very high stakes, and success lasts only the length of totality: A little over two minutes. If the weather is good, there is tension because both scientists have to do their data collection in such a short amount of time.

The title, ‘Black Sun’, refers to the astronomical phenomena of total solar eclipses, however when spoken non-astronomers think the title is ‘Black Son’. As a filmmaker and astrophysicist, it has been fun to see people I know in astronomy documentaries, but few of those featured have been women or minorities. I take that back – there is usually ONE woman in every astronomy documentary. The women to be featured in ‘Black Sun’ are among the students who will be traveling with Hakeem and Alphonse to Australia, definitely more than one.

We have created a Kickstarter page for the project, which introduced me to the world of Kickstarter and ‘cloud’ funding.  Surprisingly, there are several astronomy related projects that have asked for funding through Kickstarter. To introduce audiences to the project and to Alphonse and Hakeem, we created a low-budget five-minute short video. Response has been positive to both of our promotional videos. The Kickstarter campaign is to raise funds for the first round of filming focused on Alphonse in Tokyo and the annular eclipse in May. Any funds raised above $10,000.00 will go towards filming both scientists, students, and the total solar eclipse in Australia. Please donate and encourage your friends and family to support this project!

More about the two scientists featured in “Black Sun”:

Hakeem Oluseyi is an assistant professor at the Florida Institute of Technology in Physics and Space Sciences. We worked together on the 2006 Total Solar Eclipse broadcast from Cape Coast, Ghana. See Hakeem in action in this short clip. We wrote an article about making the broadcast, “Total Solar Eclipse Coverage in Africa: Boundary Maintenance and the Control of ‘Image’ within the African American Scientific Community,” which will appear in the journal Critical Arts later this year. Also, Hakeem is one of the scientists featured in ‘Hubble’s Diverse Universe’.

Alphonse Sterling is a scientist at NASA Marshall. People outside of the Solar Astronomy community are unlikely to know Alphonse because he lives and works in Japan! He is the NASA liaison for the Hinode Satellite, a joint project with Japan.

5 comments… add one
  • Carolyn Brinkworth May 12, 2012 @ 2:16

    What a great project. We’re always struggling to find role models for the minority students we teach here in Pasadena, so you have no idea how happy I am to see this!

  • Carla Jackson May 15, 2012 @ 12:24

    “Black Sun” only needs $805 to finish, but we only have 69 hours left! Please tell everyone to give and to give now. We are so close!Thank you.

  • Carolyn Brinkworth May 15, 2012 @ 15:23

    Donated and shared on Facebook 🙂

    • Carla Jackson May 15, 2012 @ 15:30

      I know! I saw , thank you! We made our goal. WAAAAAAAAAAHGHHHHHHOOOOOOO!!!!!
      OMG!, OMG!, OMG! Okay, I am calm. This is great. Shifting into pragmatic mode now…
      We need to pay about $900 in processing, and in order to have a contingency fund if we have unexpected costs in Tokyo (ya’ think? :-)), it would be FABULOUS if we got to at least $12,000. So, if a camera lens breaks, mikes go wonky, etc. we will be able to handle it.
      Back to excited: WAAAAAAAAAAHGHHHHHHOOOOOOO!!!!!

      Could not have done this without you!
      Carla J.

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