Houston, We Have a Problem is a compelling piece of revisionist and utterly manipulated history. Although input from cynical Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek in a framing device highlights the film’s blending of truth and fiction, Bostjan and Ziga Virc are still able to mould an extremely convincing narrative. They have marshalled an impressive amount of archive footage, and their bold and radical claims are well integrated with – and hence supported by – more familiar narratives of space exploration. Presentation can be a little dry, yet stylised editing also reflects the Vircs’ assertions by making smooth transitions instead of abrupt cuts.
Revelations that even the filmmakers don’t know who all their sources are, and a surely deliberately distracting epic soundtrack over mundane military footage, are examples of Houston self-consciously destabilising its narrative. The Vircs have fun pushing this as far as they can while still making connections that, due to their strength of argument, seem scarily plausible.
The testimony of military and engineers involved in the Yugoslavian space program – particularly that of Ivan Pavić – adds personal as well as professional history. Here the Vircs find an effective, emotional, human story for audiences to latch on to. It helps too that they can exploit the natural beauty of Pag, Croatia – Pavić’s birthplace – in a series of dramatic panoramic shots.
Bostjan and Ziga Virc have combined a fascinatingly mysterious period of history with a technical tour-de-force that outlines, demonstrates and evidences the naivety that can be created by human desire for coherent narrative.
Houston, We Have a Problem is a virtuoso 90 minute exercise in leading you down the garden path. However falsely, this is an illuminating masterclass in documentary and meta-documentary making. What it lacks in aesthetic verve it delivers in sheer daring and theoretical acumen.
DIRECTOR: Ziga Virc
WRITERS: Bostjan Virc, Ziga Virc
SYNOPSIS: Explores the myth of the secret multi-billion-dollar deal behind America’s purchase of Yugoslavia’s clandestine space program in the early 1960s.