The universe has always taught us that the sky is not the limit. We find ourselves asking what, or who, else is out there? If you’re like us, we’re constantly questioning if there’s life beyond our planet. Lucky for us we can keep that sense of wonder not only through ongoing scientific research but also through the world of film and television.
In the sci-fi drama feature film CLARA, by Canadian filmmaker Akash Sherman, an obsessive astronomer and a curious artist form an unlikely bond which leads them to a profound, astronomical discovery.
The film stars Patrick J. Adams (Suits), Troian Bellisario (Pretty Little Liars), Ennis Esmer (Wanted), and Kristen Hager (Miss Sloane) received its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this year.
CLARA tells the story of Isaac Bruno (played by Adams), an astronomer obsessed with searching the cosmos for signs of life beyond Earth, despite the collapse of his own personal life around him. Isaac takes on an unqualified but spirited young research assistant named Clara (played by Bellisario) who restores balance and perspective in the midst of his downward spiral. Working together as a team, their research ultimately leads Isaac to a shocking and profound scientific discovery.
We had a chance to ask Sherman a few questions about this film…
Many of us have this fascination about space and many films made, so what was the inspiration for CLARA?
AS: Curiosity was really the inspiration for CLARA. I feel like everyone at some point has asked themselves “what else is out there?” or “are we alone?”. In a world full of conflict and differences, I think big questions like those make humans a lot more similar than they know. Clara and Isaac are two very different people, but their curiosity unites them.
Scientific validity is important in this film, can you tell us more?
AS: I believe there’s a genuine appetite for real science in films. There’s so much more opportunity for resonance if people can leave a movie with big concepts and know that a lot of what they saw is real. CLARA profiles the current and revolutionary era of planet hunting in today’s world with the TESS telescope and the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. In real life, those instruments could very well lead us to a discovery in this lifetime that proves there’s life elsewhere.
And so is the human connection – we love the relationship between the two completely different main characters. Can you more about the two characters – they, themselves are completely different.
Human connection is the core of this film. It’s there in many forms, but primarily in the bond formed by Isaac and Clara. I thought the conversation between a hyper-rational astronomer and an optimistic artist would be so interesting. They are both searching for something. I wanted these two very different points of views to not clash, but rather push them to find common ground – they both want to know what else is out there (for different reasons). While Isaac is more excited by the scientific parameters of a discovery, Clara is more excited about the philosophical implications. I relate to both characters on a personal level, more so to Clara – they are the discussion between both sides of my brain!
What was the most interesting thing you’ve learned about space while working on this film?
AS: That the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope can potentially detect biosignature gases (gases produced by life) on other planets.
The film was shot in Toronto and surrounding areas. Can you tell us some of the locations and why you chose them?
AS: We shot a few scenes on Ryerson University campus which is where I went for film school. Several of the NASA scenes were shot at U of T Mississauga because of their spectacular buildings and campus. There are a couple outdoor scenes shot by Sugar Beach – it’s such a pretty location. I should also mention that there’s a deleted scene that was shout outside the McLaughlin Planetarium in Toronto – it’s such a symbolic building about our curiosity of space.
We’re fascinated with the thought that there must be living creatures besides us in the universe. Okay, just for fun. What would be three questions you would ask them should you encounter them?
AS: If we met a more advanced civilization, the top three questions I would ask are:
1. Do you have evidence that there’s a multi-verse?
2. Can you show us how to travel at light-speed?
3. Can we be friends?
CLARA is now in theatres across Canada. Check your local listings.