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.

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