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SXSW First Look: ‘The Arc Of Oblivion’ Explores “Human Impulse” That Compels Us To Leave A Trace Behind

An ark built in rural Maine in 'The Arc of Oblivion'

EXCLUSIVE: Some years ago in rural Maine, a curious wooden structure began to take shape in a secluded field. It wasn’t a barn or other traditional habitation, but an ark. As in the kind Noah constructed in Biblical antiquity to survive an epic flood.

The man who built the newfangled vessel, filmmaker Ian Cheney, chronicles his project and its larger significance in the documentary The Arc of Oblivion, executive produced by Werner Herzog. The world premiere of the film is set for this Friday, March 10, at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. We have your first look at the trailer above.

'The Arc of Oblivion' poster
Courtesy of Sandbox Films/Wicked Delicate Films

The Arc of Oblivion developed from my obsession with backing up photographs and footage,” Cheney tells Deadline. “I wanted to explore this human impulse toward preservation and how it relates to the natural world, memory, and legacy. After deciding to build an Ark on my parents’ land in Maine, the quest took on epic proportions and turned into a wild romp through Austrian mineshafts, sandblasted Saharan libraries, and bat caves in Mallorca. Who knew that the world of memory and archives could be so exciting? It took all my restraint to finally put the camera down.”

In the trailer, Cheney notes in voiceover, “Nature stores memories with one hand and destroys them with the other. The universe pulls everything apart… I want to know this: are we insane to imagine that anything can last?”

Herzog and fellow filmmaker Kirsten Johnson (Dick Johnson Is Dead) are among those who appear in the documentary. Cheney wrote, edited and directed the film, which comes from Sandbox Films and Wicked Delicate Films.

Sandbox is behind the current Oscar-nominated documentary Fire of Love, as well as Theo Anthony’s All Light, Everywhere and Penny Lane’s Confessions of a Good Samaritan — a documentary also making its world premiere at SXSW. The nonprofit Sandbox, which describes itself as “a documentary studio that illuminates the art and beauty of scientific inquiry,” was founded by Greg Boustead; Jessica Harrop serves as head of production and development. Sandbox advisors include Herzog, producer Effie Brown, and musician David Byrne.

Cheney’s credits include The Search for General Tso (2014), The Most Unknown (2018), and The City Dark (2011). The Arc of Oblivion is an acquisition title out of SXSW, with Sandbox’s Greg Boustead handling sales. Executive Producers are Greg Boustead, Jessica Harrop, Robyn Metcalfe, and Werner Herzog. Producers are Meredith Desalazar, Manette Pottle, and Rebecca Taylor. Cinematography is by Ezra Wolfinger, with animation by Melissa McClung. Colin Cheney composed the original score. 

The Arc of Oblivion premieres in the SXSW Film Festival’s Documentary Spotlight section. Watch the trailer above.

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