This Documentary Is Worth It’s Weight In Latinum

img_7009About 2 years ago I decided to work my way through all versions of Star Trek.  I had only ever seen parts of the original series and The Next Generation.  A few months ago, I managed to make my way to Deep Space Nine and I have been loving it.  So when I heard that the documentary What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was coming to theatres, I bought myself a ticket immediately.

Going in to DS9 I was told that it was the weakest of the Star Trek shows.  Yes, I’ll admit it is different and darker than the other parts of the franchise that I am familiar with, but I really have not had a problem with this series.  In fact, I love it.  So it was a little sad to hear that this documentary was originally made to give validation to the actors who had worked so hard over the years, but who had received so little recognition for that work.  That much was apparent from the hate mail the actors were asked to read throughout the documentary.  But, as show runner Ira Steven Behr explained, what began as a way to validate the actors turned into something to commemorate the work of the the entire cast and crew of the show.

But they didn’t just want this to be some plain, old “talking heads” style documentary.  Although there are a number of interviews with cast, crew, fans, and studio executives, this documentary shows us the behind the scenes of Deep Space Nine in a truly unique way.  The film opened and closed with musical numbers sang by familiar cast members and, peppered throughout the interviews, were meetings between Behr and other show writers as they planned out a hypothetical season opener if DS9 were to be granted an eighth season.  And it wasn’t just talk.  This season opener was presented in the style of storyboard animation so that we could actually see what the plan was for the characters of this iconic space station.

I felt that it was a wise decision to include the making of a DS9 story in this documentary as the themes of writing and storytelling are prominent throughout the series.  Some of the best  stories, such as “The Visitor” and “Beyond the Stars”, revolve around the concept of writing and storytelling.  And since Jake becomes a writer/reporter as he grows up, writing becomes and important facet of the show as there is almost always a writer around to tell the stories of the station.  Even in the segments that did not feature this “eighth season”, the theme of storytelling continued through the interviews; it was fascinating (and hilarious) to hear the different – and sometimes contradictory – stories of the cast and crew who brought the space station to life.

What was apparent about the show before the documentary was that it was different from the other Treks; and from marathoning the show, I got the feeling that it was ahead of its time in some ways.  Star Trek is known for presenting current social issues in a futuristic setting, but I feel that DS9 took it a step further.  As I learned through the documentary, this show was handling the portrayal of it’s black actors seriously and it was one of the few shows on the air at the time that featured scenes with only black actors on set.  Unfortunately, other documentaries on the subject seemed to have forgotten that DS9 was doing this at the time. Episodes like “Beyond the Stars” also tackle issues of race in a historical setting, and this demonstrates to contemporary audiences that not much has actually changed.  But, this show wasn’t just tackling issues of race; this darker version of Star Trek was presenting stories throughout the seasons that dealt with war and its consequences.  Although they certainly cover a range of social topics, Behr admitted that the show could have done more in terms of its contribution to the LGBTQ+ community through its exploration of sexual identities.

Another way in which this show could be considered ahead of its time is because of the way the episodes were aired.  Through the interviews with show runners and fans, it was apparent that the structure of the series did not lend itself to television as well as the other versions of Star Trek at the time.  A show like TNG, for example, has episodes that work well as stand-alone stories.  If you miss an episode, it won’t have too much of an effect on your understanding of the overall story.  DS9 is different because you need to watch the episodes in order, and the stories are all connected by a larger story arc.  This could be why I did not have a problem with DS9; I have been watching it on Netflix, marathoning episodes back to back.  The story, for me, has a a kind of binge-worthy flow.  It was even mentioned in the documentary that the show seems to have become more popular now that people can watch all of the episodes in order thanks to streaming services.

Despite the hate mail I mentioned earlier, this documentary was very much for the fans, by the fans.  Thanks to crowdfunding, this documentary became a reality.  And to reward the efforts of the fans, the team behind this project promised to restore 5 minutes of original footage so that it could be presented in HD.  As explained in the post-credit scene, those 5 minutes became 22 minutes! The restored footage was gorgeous, and it was all the more impressive once we learned just what went into restoring that footage.  Thank you to the fans who contributed to this project.  This documentary was so much fun to watch and I plan on buying it the moment it is available on Blu-ray!

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