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‘First Man’ Screenwriter Josh Singer on How ‘Human Tragedy Can Create the Impossible’

The Oscar winner was joined by an astronaut and a NASA scientist as the film received SFFILM's Sloan Science in Cinema Prize.

Josh SingerUniversal Pictures 'First Man' film presentation, Arrivals, The Contenders New York presented by Deadline, USA - 01 Dec 2018

Josh Singer

Stephen Lovekin/Deadline/REX/Shutterstock

First Man” isn’t quite living up to its presumed frontrunner status now that awards season is in full swing, but all is not lost. Damien Chazelle’s look at Neil Armstrong’s ascent was recently honored with SFFILM’s Sloan Science in Cinema Prize, which was created in partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and honors films that portray science and scientists in notable ways.

Screenwriter Josh Singer was recently joined after a screening by retired NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and JPL and NASA scientist Dr. Leon Alkalai to discuss the film and the idea that, as the panel’s moderator put it, “human tragedy can really create the impossible.”

“There are so many chapters of his life you could focus on,” Singer said onstage, “and yet all I heard was about this daughter he had that he’d lost, that he then prayed for every day since and was looking forward to seeing again. It was both shocking and also very familiar, right, that these intense personal tragedies which are kept from the rest of the world actually define us.”

He added, “I’m not sure that’s why Neil got to the moon, why Neil was the right guy for the job, but I do think that in studying Neil, the more I learned about him, the more I saw how he had forced himself to push down emotions, to push down, you know, these tragedies and to focus. That compartmentalization, there’s no question it played a part.”

“We understand it’s there,” Swanson then said of the life-and-death risks of being an astronaut. “There is danger involved. … We know in the back of our minds there is a chance something can always go wrong.” He then revealed that he went so far as to write a letter to each of his children in case anything were to happen to him.

Watch their full discussion, exclusively on IndieWire, below:

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