Do we need the darkness of the night sky, and the light from the stars above?

The City Dark, a documentary in competition at the SXSW 2011 film festival, sets out to answer that question. Following the journey of filmmaker Ian Cheaney, the environmental documentary features  interviews with astronomers, and scientists who share their view on the darkness, starlight, and the dangers of light pollution from the urban landscape.

Growing up in the natural beauty of Maine, Cheaney moves to New York City, only to discover the stars in the night sky are wiped out by the lights of the city. This compels him to learn more about the missing stars and the issues surrounding it.


7 pm Saturday, March 12th, Vimeo Theater – Austin Conv. Center

11:15am, Sunday, March 13th, Alamo Lamar South

4:30pm, Friday, March 18th, Alamo Lamar South


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World Premiere of THE CITY DARK at SXSW film festival a new feature documentary from the co-creator of KING CORN
Austin, TX — THE CITY DARK, a new feature documentary by Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Ian Cheney, premieres Saturday, March 12th in the Documentary Feature Competition at the South by Southwest Film Festival. The film chronicles the disappearance of darkness, revealing the surprising impact of light pollution on human health, the environment, and our culture’s relationship to the night sky.
Many Americans are familiar with the bright orange glow that floats above every city at night; it’s estimated that 2/3 of all Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their own backyards, and across the world, 2/3 of all humans live under skies polluted by artificial light. But might we be losing more than our view of the stars?

THE CITY DARK follows filmmaker Ian Cheney, who grew up an amateur astronomer in Maine but moves to New York City and discovers skies awash in electric light. Posing a deceptively simple question, “What do we lose, when we lose the night?” the film leads viewers on a quest to understand what is lost in the glare of city lights. Astronomers atop Haleakala in Hawaii lament the city lights fogging their newest observatory, designed to detect killer asteroids headed for earth. Biologists along the Florida coast trace the death of thousands of hatching sea turtles to their disorientation by Miami’s lights. In Chicago, viewers learn that migratory birds, accustomed to navigating by the stars, are colliding by the millions into brightly lit office buildings all across the US. Cancer researchers at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania unravel the shocking relationship between exposure to light at night and the risk of breast cancer in shift workers. Each visit deepens viewers’ understanding of both the measurable and intangible benefits of darkness, while asking us to pause and consider whether darkness is a natural resource — an overlooked part of the wilderness needing our protection. A cast of quirky characters includes luminaries like astrophysicist Neil deGRasse Tyson and author Ann Druyan alongside volunteer bird-rescuers and sidewalk stargazers. Blending a humorous tone with majestic footage of the night sky, what unravels is an introduction to the science of the dark, and an exploration of the human relationship to the stars.

SXSW screenings

Saturday, March 12th, 7pm, Vimeo Theater – Austin Convention Center*
Sunday, March 13th, 11.15am, Alamo Lamar South
Friday, March 18th, 4.30pm, Alamo Lamar South

(*Screening followed by sidewalk stargazing with local astronomers)

About the director

Ian Cheney is a Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker. He grew up in New England and earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Yale. After graduate school he co-created and starred in the Peabody Award-winning theatrical hit and PBS documentary King Corn (2007), directed the Sundance Channel documentary The Greening of Southie (2008), and co-produced the Planet Green documentary Big River (2019). Ian also maintains a 1/1000th acre farm in the back of his ’86 Dodge pickup, which is at the center of his recent 1-hour film Truck Farm (2010). An avid astrophotographer, he travels frequently to show his films, lead discussions and give talks about sustainability, agriculture, and the human relationship to the natural world.