Throughout my film career, I've looked for compelling stories that resonated on multiple levels for various audiences. Stories that, although may be rooted in the past, nonetheless transcend a specific time period to relate to some of the most salient events and issues of today. Make no mistake about it - Sputnik is one of those rare events.
Since 1958, the Sputnik 'moment' can often be found as an example of a real-world lesson or metaphor jumping off of the pages of speeches delivered by prominent political leaders throughout the world. But what does Sputnik really mean and how can the events of 1958 offer insight on today's political, economic or social landscape? SPUTNIK MANIA helps us to contextualize this 'moment' and how it changed America and the world forever.
The film is based on Paul Dickson's book, The Shock of the Century. However, as I begun to comb through what literally seemed to be a million feet of film at the time, a larger story emerged, which made the process of editing so extraordinary and exciting.
With my editor, John Vincent Barrett, I believe we created a new documentary style. A style that embraces the timeless feel of black-and-white footage while staying true to the soundtrack of that era. I found the film in a wide array of places - primarily from You Tube and eBay actually. The real challenge however was diligently tracking the footage from middle European and Russian underground sources. Once that was underway, we then had to secure the rights by contacting quite a few people - eventually paying through the nose!
My goal when making the film was to inevitably present and package a historic film with wonderful archival footage set to great music - but telling an even greater story. In the end, we see a film that is both dramatic and worthy of presentation to a theatrical audience. Pre-screenings that we've had with high school audiences have proved that today's students relate to the film and possibly see it as an extension of present-day American history.
In the end, I hope audiences will walk away thinking about the present. For instance, here we are in an election year where it is obvious that leadership matters. SPUTNIK MANIA uncovers that President Eisenhower was a strategic leader while it appears that President Bush has been a tactical leader. The film not only brings to light the importance of long-term strategies directing short-term actions or inactions, but also reminds us that little has changed from fifty years ago. Sputnik reveals our inner-most reactions to fear and how and why we ultimately turned those visceral reactions into a much larger positive. I believe that Sputnik was not just a piece of American history, but a piece of world history and is a valuable learning tool for all of the world's citizens.
From the start, I was interested in the reactions of ordinary American citizens. Although I've interviewed three presidents, and many others holding high-level positions, it is the everyday citizen that shares with me the essence of our democracy. So I focused SPUTNIK MANIA not on the "secret stuff" that has recently come to light but rather on how people genuinely felt at that time and why they felt the way they did.
- David Hoffman