Houston, we have a problem! (2016)

Houston, we have a problem! (2016), directed by Ziga Virc, written by Bostjan Virc, Ziga Virc, starring archive footage of old presidents, the people of Yugoslavia and Slavoj Zizek 

Did you know, that Yugoslavia of all places had a space program after the end of the Second World War? I didn't. Did you also know, that Tito, the leader of Yugoslavia, ended up selling the space program for the USA, that was having problems in getting their rockets to function properly, while the Yugoslavians had already launched a pig in orbit?  It goes without saying, that I didn't know that either.

But, did Yugoslavia really have a space program that it ended up selling to the USA? Did the USA really pay 2,5 billion dollars of it in secret and did the deal end up blowing in Tito's face in a manner of that ended up in the collapse of the socialistic country after he died in 1980.

Houston, we have a problem! is a documentary that combines old archive footage, witness testimonials and a personal story of a rocket engineer Ivan Pavic, who was basically sold to NASA, while his death was fabricated in order to clear any suspicions of the involvement of Yugoslavia on the great Amercian space program. It is a compellingly made documentary, that ends up being fabrication what comes to the actual space program, but true about Tito and Yugoslavia and how he ruled his own share of the socialistic dream.

As you might have guessed, the whole space program thing is just a mirror. It is a convincing told tall tale that is framing a narrative about fact and fiction, about things we want to believe but don't really do. Like a philosopher Slavoj Zizek says, there are lies that are beneficial to all parties. Lies like Santa Claus, which is a lie told by parents to the children and believed by children because there's a benefit of it. It doesn't matter if the children know that Santa Claus is not real, as it's beneficial for them to pretend it is, as they get presents, despite they'd know it's the parents and relatives who actually get them. And the parents benefit, as they have an external authority figure to use as a carrot.

Many things that are presented in this documentary are true. The USA did give Yugoslavia over 700 million dollars in the mid-1960s and that many American astronauts visited the country. Tito also was the last foreign head of state to meet president Kennedy a month before he was assassinated. These all are things, that have been linked to the conspiracy theories about a secret deal made between the countries, in which a good deal of not so stellar technology was sold to NASA, which quite rapidly caused the relationship of the two countries to deteriorate and got CIA to plan the downfall of Tito's Yugoslavia.

A question asked many times by the movie makers is, what is fact and what is fiction. It is done in such a manner, that despite I knew of the fabrication, I wanted to believe in this odd tale from the shadows of the cold war. I wanted to believe, that for a short while a small, socialistic country managed to upkeep a space program, that was good enough to fool a big, world governing the USA of its merits so, that they ended up spending NASA's 3 years budget to procure it only to end up with a store full of obsolete technology.

The story itself is such an interesting web of lies, misdirection and possibilities in re-writing the history as we know it, that it was easy to let the movie wash over me in a way, that I ended up caring and believing it. In the end, I had to google what was true and what was not just to remind me that what I was watching was a convincing lie tied to events that really did take place. It was, just like Zizek concluded, "even if it didn't happen, it's true."