“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”. Neil Armstrong’s famous words are a lasting legacy of the social and scientific impact the first moonwalk had on the planet. Forty years on and the sentence is still capable of striking inspiration, encapsulating one of mankind’s most landmark achievements.

Over 60 million people worldwide tuned in on 20 July 1969 to watch the ghostly black and white images of Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin becoming the first humans to walk on the moon. While the breathtaking scene is frequently replayed by today’s media, the more extensive story that surrounds the mission is often left in the shadows.

A feature-length documentary commissioned by Nasa shortly after the event called Moonwalk One in particular portrayed the massive technological achievement of the event alongside offering a distinct historical context.

As the run-up to the 40th anniversary of the first moonwalk begins, an independent production company has got its hands on director Theo Kamecke’s original cut of Moonwalk One and remastered the footage into a high-definition DVD format (available at moonwalkone.com). Here the film’s producer Chris Riley discusses the documentary’s timeless appeal and its significance in the 21st century.

“Over 60 million people worldwide tuned in on 20 July 1969 to watch Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin becoming the first humans to walk on the moon.”

Alex Hawkes: What new dimension does the director’s cut of Moonwalk One add to the first moon landing story?

Chris Riley: When Moonwalk One was released in 1970, the film was about 112 minutes in length, which Nasa believed at the time to be long. So they cut the film by 15 minutes and released a 96-minute version instead.

Nasa essentially commissioned director Theo Kamecke to produce a “time capsule” rather than a straight-cut documentary.

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By the time the film was released, the general public had become saturated with coverage of human missions to the moon and the project struggled to attract any distributors, although it did receive some television play in 1974 for Apollo 11’s fifth anniversary.

Theo therefore made a film that encapsulated what it meant to be a human being living on earth at that moment of history during the summer of 1969. Although the spine of the story is the first landing on the moon, the film has a much more profound and timely context, incorporating other extraordinary feats of humanity such as Stonehenge.

AH: Theo said he tried to capture the mood and feelings on earth. In your own words, how does the film capture the technological achievements of the first moonwalk and does the DVD capture the maturity of technology then and how integral it is to achievements today?

CR: In the build up to lift-off, Theo manages to beautifully contrast the precision of procedures at launch control with the chaotic nature of the crowds arriving at the Cape (Canaveral) to watch the Saturn V rocket take off.

The technological triumph of Apollo is portrayed through Theo placing the story in the greater panoply of human history and achievement by starting and ending the film at Stonehenge, another of mankind’s great endeavours.

It was said of the Apollo technology that the president had plucked a decade out of the 21st century and inserted it into the 1960s and 1970s, and Theo’s film dramatically captures this in the time capsule he has created.

“It was said of the Apollo technology that the president had plucked a decade out of the 21st century and inserted it into the 1960s and 1970s.”

AH: Many people would have watched the moonwalk when they were young – what will stand out to an older audience today from a technological point of view?

CR: The thing that stands out is that if we were to be doing another moon shot today it would probably look very similar to how it looked technologically in 1969. What Apollo did was to give a huge boost to technologies like digital computing and mobile communications, which effectively shaped the IT and communications revolution we are living through.

AH: I understand you had access to director Theo Kamecke’s original 35mm print of Moonwalk One. How did this aid the restoration process?

CR: Theo had kept hold of the full 112-minute version for prosperity I suppose. The 35mm colour print of the film was stored in film cans, which sat under his desk for 40 years. He didn’t think anything of it until a few years ago when we were making the film documentary Shadow of the Moon and I managed to track him down.

I had always dreamed of finding a print of the film as it is beautifully shot, so when Theo mentioned he had the print under his desk in 2007, I jumped at the chance to help restore it.

I am pleased to say it was still in very good condition even though Theo had done nothing to preserve it, so it was a project that seemed to fall together.

AH: So little tampering was actually involved?

CR: Regardless of its good condition, the original print is an emulsion medium, which means it scratches easily and inevitably accumulates a great number of blemishes. We tried to eradicate as many of those visual blemishes as possible.

“Buzz Aldrin spoke not just of it being three men on a mission to the moon, but of their flight symbolising the insatiable curiosity of mankind to explore the unknown.”

We also spent considerable time enhancing the film’s soundtrack. It was originally an optical recording, which tend to get very dirty and plague the sound with whizzes, cracks and pops. So we removed all of these and restored the silence of space, if you like.

AH: The film features the words of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong – what are some of the most important things they say about space flight?

CR: Falling back to Earth from the moon at almost seven miles a second Neil, Buzz and Michael [Collins] all took it in turns to broadcast their thoughts about what their mission meant.

Buzz Aldrin spoke not just of it being three men on a mission to the moon, but of their flight symbolising the insatiable curiosity of mankind to explore the unknown. Mike Collins talked about the complexity of the Saturn V and the blood, sweat and tears it had taken to build.

Neil Armstrong thanked the Americans who had put their hearts and all their abilities into building the equipment and machinery that had made the journey possible. It had taken 400,000 men and woman across America to put them there and I feel that is one of the most inspiring things about the Apollo story – that such a huge workforce was marshalled into accomplishing something truly miraculous.

AH: What were their movements on the moon? I have seen footage that shows them almost being playful?

CR: All 12 men who walked on the moon felt playful in the 1/6th gravity, from the first kangaroo hops that Aldrin did as an experiment in low G locomotion to the “lunar Olympics” that later astronauts attempted – throwing things as far as they could and trying to jump higher than anyone before them. I think this was wonderfully revealing about the human spirit.

AH: The moon landing almost ended in disaster, can you explain how the footage shows this and does it capture the suspense in the control room on Earth at the time?

“This film captures what it was like to live through the summer of 1969 as well as drawing attention to how audacious Nasa’s endeavour with the Apollo rocket really was.”

CR: The 12-minute descent to the lunar surface is the hardest part of the mission and it didn’t go entirely to plan. First of all a procedural error lead to the computer being overloaded and throwing up alarms that meant it wasn’t getting all its jobs done. Nevertheless, it cleverly prioritised the most important ones and managed to keep the spacecraft functioning properly.

Then the crew realised they were off course by a few miles and they were being taken into a more dangerous crater and boulder field, which Armstrong had to fly over to select a new landing spot, keeping them in flight longer than anticipated and using up more fuel. This all added to the tension of the landing, but the mood at mission control was always calm.

Theo was there and recalls that no one would know that anything wrong was unfolding by looking at their faces, everyone was very cool, calm and collected – it was the only way to solve the problems as they came up. Ultimately everything was in the hands of the astronauts at this time. There wasn’t much mission control could do.

AH: How much of a race against time was it to release the DVD to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing?

CR: We had to pull out all the stops to finish the film before the anniversary. We filmed a whole new documentary called The Making of Moonwalk One, where we even took Theo back to Stonehenge for the first time in 40 years. There were also a number of other extras for the DVD that we put together. All of these were turned around in the space of 12 weeks – I have hardly slept!

AH: How do you feel the remastered Moonwalk One could inspire a new generation towards space exploration?

CR: Being the anniversary year, there is obviously a lot of press interest in the Apollo 11 mission at the moment. This film captures what it was like to live through the summer of 1969 as well as drawing attention to how audacious Nasa’s endeavour with the Apollo rocket really was.

You have to be pragmatic about it – some people will simply never be interested in this type of project. I hope though there is enough of an audience to relive it the way I remember the event the first time around, as the first moonwalk has been an inspiration to me throughout my life.

I also hope that we have helped Nasa to open the time capsule they made 40 years ago. Over 600 million people watched it back then and it would be nice if they all did this time as well.