They have got to be kidding! At least that’s what I thought, but apparently not. I received a call from Richard Solash, a reporter with Radio Free Europe about ten days ago to discuss a film being made by Slovene director Ziga Virc and writer Bostjan Virc that alleges that Tito’s Yugoslavia had a secret space program and secretly sold space knowledge to NASA, in the process making Tito rich and making if possible for the U.S. to achieve its Apollo program. Here is a Radio Free Europe news story about it. The filmmakers made a trailer offering the thrust of their argument and it quickly generated quite a lot of buzz in the Balkans. The trailer is here:
It is a fascinating, misleading, and in places highly contentious trailer for what is being billed as a “docudrama.” It claims that in 1960 the CIA discovered a secret Yugoslav space program, one that the United States exploited to win the space race with the Soviet Union, “buying” the whole shebang from Yugoslav strongman Tito in March 1961, not long before President Kennedy’s announcement of an American lunar landing program. The Yugoslavian space effort was based, according to this trailer, on the work of Hermann Noordung, a Slovenian-born artillery officer in the Austrian Army who wrote a book, The Problem of Space Travel, that was published in 1929 not long before his death. When I served as the NASA Chief Historian between 1990 and 2002 the history program had this work translated into English and published in the NASA History Series. It has recently been reprinted with additional prefatory material in an excellent new edition by the Centre of European Space Technologies (KSEVT) in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Those commenting on the assertions made in this film have been highly critical. Viewers of the trailer have referred to it as a “mockumentary,” a “documentary,” and a “fantasy.” Of those three characterizations “documentary” is probably the term least closely related to what is being proposed for this film. William Barry, the current NASA Chief Historian, was kinder than most when he said that “I would be very curious to see if there is any real historical evidence that holds up…” Full disclosure, I was also quoted in the same news story as Bill Barry questioning the assertions made in the film trailer.
Since that time there have been many comments back and forth. The film’s principals, Bostjan Virc and Ziga Virc, contacted me by e-mail insisting that “most media misinterpreted our project without asking us anything. Some of them stated it as a real documentary and some of them claimed it’s a spoof or mockumentary. From the first beginning we present it as a docudrama…That means a movie, where the basis is a reality with added dramatisation and some fiction elements.”
As a “documdrama” I’m curious as to whether this proposed film will be something like “The King’s Speech” just recently released that is presumably a true story, but also has some notable fictional elements and at least one gross distortion of the historical record in the position of Winston Churchill on the abdication of Edward VIII from the British throne? Or will it look and feel like a documentary with an announcer narrating events but have fictional elements in it? The meaning of “docudrama” appears to serve as a license to make up whatever might be desired and to include it in the film. Where is the line between fact and fiction in this proposed work? I’ll look forward to seeing what the Vircs come up with.
I will be fascinated to see how this unfolds. I have many questions about the trailer’s arguments. Many of the connections made seem ridiculous at best; disingenuous at worst. As Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The “post hoc ergo propter hoc” approach to arguments in the trailer are solipsistic and I await the proof to support them. I’m also interested in the filmmaker’s documentation about Hermann Noordung, additional papers he may have, etc. I truly question this story, but I want to hear what others have to say about it. Any thoughts?
Roger Launius is a curator in the Space History Division of the National Air and Space Museum.