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The City Dark: A Search for Night on a Planet That Never Sleeps cover photo

The City Dark: A Search for Night on a Planet That Never Sleeps 2011

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by Ian Cheney
Directed by Ian Cheney
DVD, color, 88 min.

Jr. High - General Adult
Environmental Studies, Science, Urban Studies

Date Entered: 08/03/2012

Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

When filmmaker and amateur astronomer Ian Cheney relocated to New York City, he found the visible night sky he loved in Maine reduced to a few of the very brightest celestial objects able to shine through the glow of city lights. As documented in the film, light pollution has profound effects on migratory birds, hatchling sea turtles, and possibly, the incidence of human breast cancer. Other physiological and neurological problems appear to be associated with living in a night environment saturated with artificial light. Astronomers are forced to use increasingly remote facilities to track asteroids that could impact the Earth. Serious amateur astronomers now take advantage of dark parks in the Southwest and rural Pennsylvania to observe and photograph the night sky that once was available to all.

The quality of the video is excellent throughout. Many of the spectacular nighttime scenes (dark sky and bright sky) were filmed by Cheney himself. Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson, astronaut Don Pettit, scientists, amateur astronomers, a neurologist, a cosmologist, and lighting designer Hervé Descottes provide their perspectives on the threat of light pollution. Original cinematography and interviews are integrated with nighttime views of Earth from space to give a dramatic and comprehensive view of the problem.

This video is highly recommended for general audiences. The producers have thoughtfully included with the feature length version, a 58 minute version for classroom use. The video provides excellent support for astronomy, urban studies and environmental curricula. Perhaps the first non-planetarium experience of the stars for inner city viewers, the film will remind all of the humbling vastness and extraordinary beauty of the universe.


  • Best Score/Music, SXSW (South by Southwest) Film Festival, 2011
  • Best Feature, Environmental Film Festival at Yale, 2011