New film stars Allegheny Observatory


Above: The UNDAUNTED: The Forgotten Giants of the Allegheny Observatory premiere April 18, 2012 at the Senator John Heinz History Center. From left to right, History Center CEO Andy Masich, Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto, "Undaunted" producer, writer, and director Dr. Dan Handley, and Dr. Tom Crouch, Senior Curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum who came here from Washington, D.C. for the event. (Photo coutesy Dr. Dan Handley).

While most visitors at the Allegheny Observatory look up when they enter the 100-year-old observatory in Riverview Park, filmmaker Dr. Dan Handley looked back in history for his new documentary film “Undaunted: The Forgotten Giants of the Allegheny Observatory,” starring the historic Northside institution.

“Undaunted” tells the story of the Allegheny Observatory and the contributions made by its original operators John Brashear and Samuel P. Langley, despite the many setbacks and challenges they faced.

 “It’s really about shedding a positive light on Pittsburgh,” said Handley noting that most people, even in the Observatory Hill neighborhood, don’t realize what a “powerhouse of astronomy Pittsburgh has been for over 100 years.”

“There’s all this history that touched the world stage,” said Handley. “I’m surprised we don’t hear more about it.”

According to Handley, more than any commercial motive, showing Pittsburgh’s and the Allegheny Observatory’s contribution to astronomy is why he made the film.

Handley explained that Brashear created the optical apparatus that helped develop the MichelsonMorley experiment, which revolutionized physics and led the Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Though the film focuses on astronomy, Handley noted that there was a “balance of human interest” in the film which also includes history and tales of human struggles.  

Handley, who lives in Ross Township, would drive by the observatory almost daily, but despite his background in science had no knowledge of the building’s history.

He began work on the film in 2008 while taking a class at Pittsburgh Filmmakers and was encouraged by the film’s director of photography Mark Knobil, who directed documentaries for Discovery Chanel and other major stations. After years of research in Pittsburgh and at the Smithsonian Museums and National Archives, Handley finished the film this year.

Last night, Handley premiered his film to an audience of 400 at the Heinz History Center that included representatives from the Northside Leadership Conference, several universities, astronomers, historians and the senior curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum who came from Washington, D.C. for the event.

City Councilman Bill Peduto, who worked on the film as the executive producer, was also in attendance at last night’s event.

Handley received funding from Heinz History Center, The Buhl Foundation, Pittsburgh Filmmakers, The Richard King Mellon Foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation, The University of Pittsburgh and other foundations in the area to make his film.

Handley said the film is being made available for local schools and they hope to plan more showings of the film. He said they are also in conversation with PBS to have the film aired nationally on the station.

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