‘Moon Rock’ a testament to the human spirit

by Keith Barber

A family photo can inspire a wealth of emotions, including nostalgic feelings and remembrances. In the case of Debra Sea, a third-year MFA student in UNCG’s film and video production program, a family photo snapped in her northern Minnesota home in 1970 inspired a documentary film.

“Moon Rock,” Sea’s 12-minute short documentary, will screen along with three other short films by UNCG MFA students at Weatherspoon Art Museum on Thursday, May 5 at 7 p.m. A filmmaker reception will begin at 6 p.m.

The film opens with her father, Duane, giving a physics lesson to a class of fifth graders at Wadena Deer Creek Elementary School in northern Minnesota. Duane Sea had once worked for NASA and joined the faculty of Bemidji State University in the late 1960s as a physics professor, Debra explains, and he made thousands of presentations to elementary school children throughout the Midwest during the 1960s.

To demonstrate the temperature extremes on the lunar surface, Duane would utilize liquid nitrogen to impress young audiences. In “Moon Rock,” he recreates his presentation for his son, Dave’s fifth grade class as he pounds a nail with a frozen banana and breaks a frozen flower, shatters it like glass.

His demo in “Moon Rock” marks the first time in 40 years he had explained the physics of space travel to school children.

Debra lit up as she recounted the origin of the famous blackand-white photo depicting her and her brothers, William and Dave, looking at a moon rock with wonder.

In 1970, Duane Sea brought a NASA exhibit to Bemidji State University, which included a moon rock. He couriered the rock from Duluth, Minn., to Bemidji, and made a brief stop at the Sea family home along the way. As the three Sea children stared at the rock, Debra’s mother took the inspirational photo.

“For me, it’s always been that anything is possible,” Debra said. “If a rock from the moon can end up on your kitchen table, then anything can happen. So that’s my philosophy on life and that inspired the film.”

Sea, whose last film, “Balance,” was accepted into 22 film festivals and was recently named a finalist for a Student Academy Award, said her motivation to make a documentary about her moon rock experience was fueled by her desire for other children to have that same feeling of pure wonder.

To recreate that moment depicted in the family photo, Sea participated in NASA’s “moon rock loaner program,” and received permission from the agency to be a courier for a moon rock gathered during the famous Apollo 11 mission where Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

To receive the moon rock, Sea had to sign a lengthy agreement that placed strict demands on her.

“You had to keep the moon rock in line of sight at all times or it needed to be in a safe or vault and the safe or vault had to have a lock that was built in,” Sea explained. “It can’t be checked baggage, you can’t put it in the trunk of a car and you can’t stay overnight in a hotel or motel room with it.”

Security is of utmost importance, Sea said, because some moon rocks have been stolen and sold on the black market.

“They’re priceless and they’re considered national treasures of the American people,” she added.

Earlier this year, Sea and her assistant Adrienne Ostberg traveled to Hampton, Va. to pick up the moon rock before boarding a plane bound for Bemidji, Minn.

“They said we got the biggest [moon rock] they had — it was 115 grams, which is the size of 20 nickels,” Sea said.

Sea and Ostberg had to sleep in the Minneapolis airport when their flight was canceled.

“It was worrisome,” Sea said. “The idea about this documentary was not to come back saying, ‘Moon rock damaged forever’, or ‘Moon rock stolen.’” Sea safely delivered the moon rock to Wadena Deer Creek Elementary School, and at the conclusion of her father’s presentation, brought out the moon rock to show it to the fifthgraders.

“Everyone wanted to touch it,” she said. “It almost took on like this relic characteristic where people really wanted to touch it and see it, so we passed out gloves and let the kids touch it.”

Sea concludes the film with her father talking about how he disagrees with people who claim that children are so different today. Sea said she saw younger versions of herself in the faces of the fifth-graders at Wadena Creek.

“My father says he sees the same eager faces that he saw when he was doing this [40 years ago],” Sea said.

wanna go?

“Moon Rock” and three more thesis films by MFA students will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 5, at the Weatherspoon Art Museum. A reception will start at 6 p.m.; a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers will follow the screening.