ABOUT

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME TRAVEL searches for answers as to why time travel has inspired humans across borders and generations.

Long before becoming a dilemma for Einstein, time travel peppered ancient Japanese myths, the Hindu epic Mahabharata, and folktales around the world. Hundreds of years later, in dystopian novels and TV dramas, it remains one of the most compelling narratives we know.

In a society where time means everything and instant gratification is key, the idea of traveling through time offers us a means of escape from our hectic lifestyle. And it shows: in the last decade, there has been an influx of time travel themes in books, movies, and pop culture.

But it isn’t merely a diversion for the mind or a form of entertainment. What was once just a story has become controversy. Time travel pits scientists against each other in debate. It angers governments to the point of censorship. It’s shaping the computer technology that will order our societies tomorrow; it inspires fanatics; it inspires our youth. In a society that worships progress forward, this deceptively simple idea invites us to indulge nostalgia, rewrite history and evade mortality.

What makes time travel so powerful that it resonates in each of us, and to what lengths are we going today to make it a reality?

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME TRAVEL is the biography of an idea, chasing time travel from ancient India to the streets of Los Angeles. For people of all ages and backgrounds—especially science fiction enthusiasts, and anyone who aches to experience a different time—it is an odyssey through one’s own imagination and a discovery of kindred spirits. 

CAST

Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Connecticut

Dr. Ron Mallett

Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Connecticut
Science Educator, Comedian and Television Host

Bill Nye

Science Educator, Comedian and Television Host
President and Researcher at Advanced Neural Biosciences

Chana Phaedra

President and Researcher at Advanced Neural Biosciences
Founder of the Jiva Institute of Vedic Studies

Dr. Satyanarayana Dasa

Founder of the Jiva Institute of Vedic Studies
Professor of Philosophy, NYU

Ted Sider, PhD

Professor of Philosophy, NYU
Author of Robopocalypse

Daniel Wilson

Author of Robopocalypse
Professor of Computer Science, MIT

Erik Demaine, PhD

Professor of Computer Science, MIT
Founder of Double Fine Productions

Tim Schafer

Founder of Double Fine Productions
Professor of Physics, MIT

Ed Farhi, PhD

Professor of Physics, MIT
Intuitive Business Strategist

Alexandra Holmes

Intuitive Business Strategist
 
Curator at MoPOP

Brooks Peck

Curator at MoPOP
Director, Digital Technology and Culture, Seattle University

Wanda Gregory

Director, Digital Technology and Culture, Seattle University
Nebula Award Winning Writer

Ted Chiang

Nebula Award Winning Writer
 

DIRECTOR

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It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been working on this documentary, and almost always the question I get from my interviewees,   friends,  or  anyone  I  talk to  about the  film  is  “So…why are you making a documentary about time travel?”  I  guess it  goes all  the way  back to  when I was a kid.  Being a child  of  the 90’s,  some  of  my  favorite  books—Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time—featured trips through history.  I grew up reading Calvin and Hobbes, and my favorite parts were when Calvin and Hobbes got into their cardboard box time machine to visit dinosaurs. But  I  didn’t  really  become  absorbed  with  the  idea  of  time travel until, halfway through film school, I saw what would become my favorite film of all time.  La Jetée (1962) is a 30 minute featurette directed by Chris Marker.  Comprised of a series of black and white stills with  narration, it tells a post apocalyptic story of  a man  being  sent  to  different  eras  in order to rescue the present, and  an  image  engrained  in  his  mind, a memory when he was a child, that haunts him.
 
Time travel was something that was a fun,  adventurous thing in books and movies, but Chris Marker’s version brought up ideas that were just mind blowing to me- bringing up ideas of time, memory and mortality in beautiful, stark imagery- and I was drawn to the whole idea of time and time travel.  Doing a documentary on time travel was the perfect excuse to jump wholeheartedly into a topic.
 
Originally, I wanted this film to pit the physicists studying time travel—the “realists”—against the “fanatics” who thought time travel was possible. My main question was: who was right? But then I realized that documentaries exploring whether time travel is possible were already out there, like Stephen Hawking’s Universe, or Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. But during my research I found it fascinating to find how far back in history the concept of time travel had already been recorded. Centuries before H. G. Wells wrote The Time Machine, there were written stories about time travel spanning across all cultures and religions.
 
Humans have always been fascinated with time and the possibility of time travel. Over the last centuries the concept of traveling though time has been classified as Science Fiction, sometimes lumped with “make believe” or “fanciful”, or at best  “non-rigorous”, but one should not deny the intrinsic value it has brought along.
 
Science fiction has inspired mankind to make true technological advantages. It has encouraged us to embrace future ideas and has enable people to truly believe they can reach for the moon and the stars.  When Star Trek first came out, the automatic sliding door seemed out of this world, and now it is so ingrained in our everyday life that is hard to believe that was science fiction then.  I’m very passionate about making science a cultural priority in our society.  By documenting a cultural phenomenon like time travel and discussing the controversy it brings along, I want to spark people’s interest in science itself.