Another Unavailable Oscar-Nominated Doc: “The Race for Space”

One of these days I’m going to attempt to see as many available Oscar-nominated documentaries as possible. Today I noticed one of the many that could be difficult to find: David L. Wolper’s 1959 TV special “The Race for Space.” Wolper, who died last summer, is best known for producing “Roots” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” though he also had some hand in classic docs like “The Hellstrom Chronicle” (an Oscar winner), “Four Days in November” (Oscar nominee) and “Imagine: John Lennon.”

“Race for Space,” which lost to the only other feature doc nominee of 1960 (“Serengeti”), was Wolper’s first of two directorial efforts (the other is a 1961 doc titled “Hollywood: The Golden Years”), and it’s sadly not available in any format I can find. I stumbled upon it while looking for films about Yuri Gagarin and the Soviet cosmonaut program since today is the 50th anniversary of the first manned space mission.

Wolper’s film came before Gagarin’s milestone, of course, but it featured exclusive footage from Russia of Sputnik and such. The point isn’t the film’s relevance to the anniversary, though; it’s that it needs to be made available for doc aficionados like myself.

I presume there is some format or other accessible through the David L. Wolper Center at USC, but the website for that archive is down for some reason (are others looking for the film today?). Hopefully I’ll find a way to see it when I embark on my Oscar Doc project.

For now, in celebration of Gagarin’s historical mission, here’s a trailer for a conspiracy theory documentary called “Yuri Gagarin Conspiracy: Fallen Idol” that argues the milestone is not even true:




About Christopher Campbell
I am a blogger for Documentary Channel and, where I write the Doc Talk column. I prefer real stories to fake ones. I tweet here: @thefilmcynic

4 Responses to Another Unavailable Oscar-Nominated Doc: “The Race for Space”

  1. jonkelland says:

    i’m actually gearing up for this project. going from present to past, my plan is to catch all the shortlisted films (as applicable). i’m hoping to limit completing each year to a week. i’ll probably start shortly after returning from Full Frame, let me know if you ever want to join in.

  2. Christopher Campbell says:

    I’m planning to go chronological from the beginning. Probably will so on this blog, but not until the semester is over.

  3. Ray Faiola says:

    There are 16mm prints of THE RACE FOR SPACE. The film was syndicated to stations and was also probably made available to local public libraries through McGraw-Hill (who distributed library prints of BIOGRAPHY).

  4. MillCreekEnt says:

    THE RACE FOR SPACE will be getting an official DVD release in January from Mill Creek Entertainment! Also included will be 2 additional David L. Wolper programs: Project: Man in Space and Race for the Moon. More info available at

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