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'Awaken' documentary captures natural beauty of Earth and our night sky

A new documentary by award-winning astrophotographer Tom Lowe is showcasing humanity's relationship to the natural world, including the sky above our heads.

Called 'Awaken,' the 4K HDR documentary premiered Friday (April 9) on the science fiction site Dust and is available on digital platforms worldwide. In the United States, you can catch it on Prime Video (opens in new tab), Apple TV+ (opens in new tab), Google Play, Microsoft, RedBox, FandangoNow and Vudu; if you live elsewhere, consult the official website (opens in new tab) to see where you can view it.

The official trailer for 'Awaken', available on YouTube, includes numerous references to space, including shots of the Milky Way rising over the desert, soaring mountain shots with dark skies behind, and humans performing rituals underneath the stars.

Auroras dance in the night sky in director Tom Lowe's documentary "Awaken," which debuted on Dust April 9, 2021. (Image credit: Dust/Gunpowder & Sky/Dubai Film)

"'Awaken' explores humanity's relationship with technology and the natural world," the trailer's description reads. "Shot over a five-year period in more than 30 countries, the film pioneers state-of-the-art timelapse, time-dilation, underwater, and aerial cinematography techniques to give audiences new eyes with which to see our world."

Lowe credits two childhood sources for his love of astrophotography shown in the documentary: famed scientist and science communicator Carl Sagan, who narrated a TV series called 'Cosmos' in 1980, and Boy Scout camping trips to the Sierra Mountains in California. Lowe also was named 'Astronomy Photographer of the Year' by BBC's Sky at Night magazine in 2010, for a shot of the Milky Way behind a bristlecone pine tree in Sierra Nevada.

Director Tom Lowe's debut feature film "Awaken" on Dust showcases the stunning beauty of the natural world and night sky.

(Image credit: Dust/Gunpowder & Sky/Dubai Film)

"In the sixth grade, our science teacher played the entire 'Cosmos' series for us in class and ever since, I have been fascinated by the grandeur, mystery and enormity of space," Lowe told 

Thinking back on his Boy Scout experiences, Lowe added he was so pleased to capture views of the Sierras once again in 'Awaken', using helicopter timelapse shots. "I hope 'Awaken' will inspire people to get out into nature and to sleep under the stars, without a tent, weather permitting. I'm convinced that staring up at the night sky stirs deep, unconscious, uplifting genetic memories in humans," he said.

The documentary was executive-produced by Terrence Malick and Godfrey Reggio, and narrated by actor Liv Tyler ("Ad Astra (opens in new tab)," "Lord of the Rings"). The production studio is Gunpowder & Sky's sci-fi entertainment branch Dust, whose back catalog of space shorts includes "Orbit", "FTL" and the fictional astronaut flick "Nine Minutes."

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.