Cielo is a cinematic reverie on the crazy beauty of the night sky, as experienced in the Atacama Desert, Chile, one of the best places on our planet to explore and contemplate its splendour.

Director Alison McAlpine’s first experience in the Atacama Desert was a revelation. She had never seen such beauty and set off on a journey in this desert to explore and discover what we call the sky. What would it be like to live in this otherworldly landscape, so often compared to Mars, where even the earth is gazing upwards?

The result is a sublime and uplifting nonfiction film, equal parts love poem, travelogue and existential inquiry, drifting between science and spirituality, the arid land, desert shores and lush galaxies. Cielo expands the limits of our earthling imaginations. The night sky imagery McAlpine and her team have captured is among the most lyrical, breathtaking, and humbling ever conveyed in cinema.

Cielo is a conversation with the stars interwoven with intimate encounters with desert dwellers and scientists who study, marvel and dream the epic night sky. The aridity, lack of cloud cover, and elevation of the Atacama have made it a privileged location for astronomical observations. McAlpine befriended planet hunters at the La Silla, Paranal and Las Campanas Observatories. Yet, it is not their scientific quests which are discussed, but rather their existential and aesthetic experiences of that unknowable expanse which they spend their life studying. “All of our questions live in the sky,” our narrator suggests.

On land, we meet and share meals with cowboys living the Andean mountains, algae collectors who live along the coast, in Huasco, and, digging below the earth’s dry crust, a miner in Inca de Oro. In Catarpe we meet Robert, a storyteller who shares his ancestor’s legends and myths of the night sky. “What we call the Milky Way is a river,” his grandmother told him. “When someone died we had to kill a dog for them. This dog would help his owner swim across the river in the sky.” 

Petroglyphs etched in stone centuries ago by the native peoples of the Atacama reveal them to be keen observers of the stars. In their depictions of the Southern Cross or Chakana, we see visual representations of the duality between man and woman, winter and summer, day and night. “They say everything that is happening on earth is a reflection of your constellations,” the narrator suggests to the sky. “Is that right? Above. Below. Is each a reflection of the other?” Juxtaposed with awe-inspiring images of the night sky, and a sparse, meditative score, the overall effect is transporting. Cielo presents us with a space, quiet and calm, within which we can ponder the infinite and unknown.

Produced with additional funding from:

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