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The City Dark
A Search for Night on a Planet that Never Sleeps

The definitive story of light pollution and the disappearing stars.

A printer-friendly version of this page 83 minutes
SDH Captioned>>

Directed by Ian Cheney
Produced by Wicked Delicate Films
Co-Producers: Tamara Rosenberg, Colin Cheney, Julia Marchesi
Writer: Ian Cheney
Editors: Ian Cheney, Frederick Shanahan
Cinematography: Ian Cheney, Taylor Gentry
Music:The Fishermen Three and Ben Fries
Presented by Rooftop Films & Edgeworx Studios

"The most comprehensive and intelligent documentary on light pollution." Bob Parks, Executive Director, International Dark-Sky Association
Note: There are two versions of this program on the same DVD: 83-minutes and 58-minutes.

THE CITY DARK chronicles the disappearance of darkness. The film follows filmmaker (and amateur astronomer) Ian Cheney (KING CORN, BIG RIVER,TRUCK FARM), who moves to New York City from Maine and discovers an urban sky almost completely devoid of stars. He poses a deceptively simple question, "What do we lose, when we lose the night?".

Exploring the threat of killer asteroids in Hawai'i, tracking disoriented hatching turtles along the Florida coast, and rescuing birds on Chicago streets injured by collisions with buildings, Cheney unravels the myriad implications of a globe glittering with lights--including increased breast cancer rates from exposure to light at night, and a generation of kids without a glimpse of the universe above. In six chapters weaving together cutting-edge science with personal, meditative sequences reflecting on the human relationship to the sky, THE CITY DARK shines new light on the meaning of the dark.

The film features stunning astrophotography and a cast of eclectic scientists, philosophers, historians, and lighting designers including Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson, astronaut Don Pettit, neurologist Dr. George Brainard, Harvard Medical School scientist Dr. Steven Lockley, cosmologist Chris Impey, and lighting designer Hervé Descottes.

Grade Level: 7-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2012     Copyright Date: 2011
DVD ISBN: 1-93777-207-1

"The City Dark is a thought provoking, revealing and judicious film. Aware people will greatly appreciate the long-awaited appearance of a documentary that finally brings to light some dangerous distortions of our society. For the unaware, the unfortunately large proportion of inhabitants of our planet, the film will be an eye-opener. Cheney beautifully links astronomy to biology, with social and anthropological ramifications that should be conveyed to our politicians. As clock biologist and amateur astronomer, I loved this film!"
Dr. Paolo Sassone-Corsi, Distinguished Professor and Director, Center for Epigenetics and Metabolism, University of California-Irvine

"A clear, concise, well-documented exploration of a seldom-considered issue while simultaneously proposing answers to help offset it. Those concerned about the environment, wildlife, human health, and our vanishing cultural heritage will find The City Dark an enlightening view."
Brent Marchant, Library Journal

"Cheney reaches out to scientists in multiple disciplines to discuss the implications of this very recent technological and settlement change...A very useful documentary in the classroom context. There are many springboards for further discussion and use of supplementary materials, and the film is recommended for those who teach human ecology, urban studies, and astronomy."
Jeff Wanser, Hiram College, Anthropology Review Database

"Entertaining and thought-provoking...Mr. Cheney's film is a personal lament for the star-filled night sky he experienced growing up in Maine, but it is neither sorrowful nor a rant; he somehow manages to give this engaging work a sense of humor. He also manages to make it smart...This film makes you want to go find a starry sky to camp under quickly, before it's all gone."
Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times

"This film puts an engaging personal touch on the question of why have the stars disappeared from urban skies around the world. And more importantly, what have we lost because of this light pollution? The story is not just for astronomers - you'll never look at the sky in quite the same way again."
Dr. Woody Sullivan, Professor, Astronomy Department, University of Washington, Co-editor, Preserving the Astronomical Environment

"The City Dark takes viewers to the dark side. Most people on this planet are city dwellers that have never seen a truly dark sky...Cheney shows viewers just how dramatically our view of the night sky is being altered by urbanization. Like the rain forests and wildlife habitats, urbanization is eating away the primeval dark sky, to the point where most people rarely see anything up there but the Moon and a few bright planets...The City Dark won't leave you in the dark about light pollution. It's a must see for city dwellers who don't know what they're missing!"
Dr. Terry D. Oswalt, Professor and Head, Physics and Space Sciences Department, Florida Institute of Technology

"A compelling journey of learning and realization that delves into the basic questions raised by the explosive spread of electrical lighting in the past 125 years: What does it mean to our place in the universe to not see the stars? What does it mean for our own health and that of other species to be exposed to light at night? Why do we light the night? What can we do about it? The images and stories speak for themselves, nudging the viewer through a gradual transition from appreciating the beauty of sparkling city lights, to recognizing their damaging effects on people and other species, to imagining a healthier and more sustainable future. The City Dark is an excellent introduction to an under-appreciated topic, which it approaches in a fair-minded and balanced manner."
Travis Longcore, Associate Professor, Spatial Sciences Institute, University of Southern California, Co-Editor, Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting

"The City Dark is the most comprehensive and intelligent documentary on light pollution to have been produced. Ian has examined the societal issues related to the rise of light pollution in a way that tries to challenge the viewer to think differently about the way we use outdoor lighting. He has also been able to distill the sometimes complex technical issues related to light at night (LAN) into a very accessible and informative source of information that anyone can use."
Bob Parks, Executive Director, International Dark-Sky Association

"Comprehensive...helps us discover that night skies are more than just a pretty tableau--although the striking nighttime cinematography in the film never lets us forget how lovely they are...A great way to demonstrate that astronomy has real world implications and its importance to our everyday life."
Green Teacher

"Highly recommended for general audiences...The video provides excellent support for astronomy, urban studies and environmental curricula. Perhaps the first non-planetarium experience of the stars for inner city viewers, the film will remind all of the humbling vastness and extraordinary beauty of the universe."
Cliff Glaviano, Bowling Green State University, Educational Media Reviews Online

"Poetic and visually arresting (even hypnotic)...Stunning astrophotography...Highly recommended."
Video Librarian

"The City Dark is an extraordinarily thoughtful documentary, highly recommended especially for public and school library collections."
The Midwest Book Review

"Thought-provoking...Reminds viewers to appreciate a star-filled night sky and our place in the universe."

"The most important thing The City Dark has to tell us is that by losing touch with the stars, we've lost touch with something that inspired our distant ancestors in a profoundly spiritual way...It's no accident, observes [Hayden Planetarium's Neil deGrasse] Tyson at one point, that so many ancient people focused their religious yearnings on the stars--mysterious, glorious beacons that blazed down from skies unpolluted by city lights.Those stars may not become any more visible soon, but the movie will."
Michael Lemonick, TIME

"Wonderful film...The myriad implications of a planet glittering with artificial lights are explored, from increased health risks to a generation of kids deprived of the wonders of the universe. Featuring stunning astrophotography and a cast of eclectic scientists, historians, and lighting designers, The City Dark is a cautionary tale of light pollution and the disappearance of the night sky."
San Francisco Green Film Festival

"An informative, well-rounded look at light pollution told with a star-gazing enthusiast's passion for his subject...Impressive images of star-filled nights will remind audiences of childhood trips to the planetarium, and few will fail to notice the difference when they next look up into the heavens."

"The effects are multifaceted, and Cheny reaches out to scientists in multiple disciplines to discuss the implications of this very recent technological and settlement change...A very useful documentary in the classroom context. There are many springboards for further discussion and use of supplementary materials, and the film is recommended for those who teach human ecology, urban studies, and astronomy."
Jeff Wanser, Hiram Collage, Anthropology Review Database

"Ian Cheney did a wonderful job with this movie...A very personal, compelling, and unique perspective on the issues of light pollution and the disappearing stars...Unexpectedly, this film also teaches us about humility, i.e. not focusing entirely on or thinking too highly of ourselves, but putting ourselves and our lives in proper perspective. Specifically, by looking at the stars and thinking about the greater universe, we should come to realize how little we know and how small we are in the grand scheme of things."
Clement Lau, UrbDeZine

"A crucial film...We've documented light pollution in our own neighborhood and urge others to do the same...This is one you definitely shouldn't miss."
David Dickinson, Astro Guyz

Select your institution type

DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
Includes the original 83-minute version and a 58-minute classroom version of the film, plus SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and scene selection.

The producer's website
POV's lesson plan
POV's discussion guide
POV's reading list
POV's take action guide
POV's excellent website for the film
International Dark-Sky Association's website
The film's trailer

Awards and Festivals
Nationwide PBS Broadcast on "POV"
New York Times Critics' Pick
Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature, Environmental Film Festival at Yale
Jury Prize for Best Score/Music, SXSW Film Festival
Mountainfilm in Telluride
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Indianapolis Film Festival
Woods Hole Film Festival
Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival
Maui International Film Festival
Independent Film Festival, Boston
Geek Film Festival
Princeton Environmental Film Festival
San Francisco Green Film Festival
Durango Independent Film Festival
EcoFocus Film Festival
Talking Pictures Festival
Tales from Planeat Earth Festival
Ecofalante Environmental Film Festival
Reel Earth Film Festival
Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam
Lund International Architecture Film Festival (Sweden)
Environmental Film Festival Australia

American Studies
Animal Behavior/Communication

Urban Studies
Urban and Regional Planning

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... more Reviews

"'What do we lose when we lose the night?' Cheney wonders. It's a haunting question. He doesn't try to answer it head on (how could he?). Instead, he peers at it from unexpected angles."

"A City Dark really makes you think about what kind of alternatives are both sustainable and feasible."
Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

"I didn't know how long the documentary would hold the attention of a fidgety fourth-grader. But he was immediately drawn into Cheney's quest. He was shocked that astronomy students on Staten Island were able to see only the very brightest stars and planets in New York City's light-polluted skies. He asked me to stop the film after a segment that showed baby sea turtles traveling toward lighted parking lots and strip malls--and death--and away from the ocean...When the film was done, he hugged me for a long moment. 'I'm glad we have a night sky,' he said."
Kristen Laine, Appalachian Mountain Club's Great Kids, Great Outdoors

"Ian Cheney's film was an eye-opening exploration of light pollution and our culture of lighting up the night sky...I want to help bring attention to light pollution because of the negative effects it has on humans and animals alike."
Green Schools Alliance blog

"Quiet, reflective...It changed the way I look at the city, the sky, the stars, and night itself."
Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture

"Light pollution? If that topic seems a tad under the radar, the excellent documentary The City Dark may put an end to that...Poetic, at times profound."
Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times

"The City Dark invites you to look outside of yourself...An absolutely beautiful film from its quiet, nostalgic beginning to the final rapid-fire revelations from the compelling individuals we meet throughout."
Nick GioBarbieri, The Austinist

"Endlessly fascinating film wizardry...Cheney seems to present viewers with a magical new pair of metaphorical glasses."
Prairie Miller, News Blaze

"This year one of the true standout films...Very entertaining and thought-provoking film...Quite humorous, visually engaging, and will hold your attention throughout."
Garry Denny, Director of Programming, Wisconsin Public Television

"Visually arresting and even hypnotic...I was transfixed...It's an eye-opener."
Charles Cassady, Jr., Cleveland Movie Blog

"[The film] is like a plaintive love song to the night skies...Elegant and poetic...Ian Cheney has built a bridge with this documentary, hoping to give us a new appreciation for the jewels of the darkened sky."
Jana J. Monji, Chicago Sun-Times

"Illuminating...Definitely worth watching, even if you have a lovely view of the night sky right outside your window."
Whitney Matheson, USA Today

"One must admire the writer-director-producer's talent and tenacity...The City Dark brings awareness to something most of us take for granted."
Eric Monder, Film Journal International

"Eloquent and compelling...The City Dark puts us back in touch with the deep yearning and mystical appreciation we have for night skies filled with bright and awesome stars!"
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice

"Illuminating...Cheney's film is well worth the time, though its conclusions will likely keep you up at night."
Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News

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