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Fly Rocket Fly
by Karen Pecota

An absurd aerospace story, yet true, is the premise for German filmmaker Oliver Schwehm latest documentary Fly Rocket Fly.  Known for his films dealing with pop-culture and literature, Schwehm comes across a story he believed to be a hoax because it was simply unbelievable to be real. This story is Schwehm's first adventurous feature length documentary project in the scientific realm.

The discovered saga of the real-life account of the German OTRAG (Orbital Transport und Raketen AG---Orbital Transport and Rocket, Inc.), the first private space launch company to exist, captivated Schwehm's curiosity once his research led him to the existence of factual documentation. To develop and uncover archival information and then to be the first to make a documentary from the findings is a project filmmakers only dream of one day accomplishing. For Schwehm, it was a gold mine at his finger-tips. It was archival information waiting to be uncovered, one waiting to be given a voice and visual imagery to be realized for a whole new generation.

Schwehm had his difficulties trying to win-over the OTRAG employees trust and to convince them their story needed to be told. These former and current employees had their issues with the media not shedding the best of light on their company. Schwehm engaged in over twenty meetings with the involved parties convincing them he was the right person to tell their story, the world needed to understand their story and it would prove insightful. The result of his mission is now a reality in Fly Rocket Fly.

An aerospace engineer from Stuttgart, Germany, Lutz Kayser, founded OTRAG in 1975. His goal was to develop, produce, and operate a radically different, low-cost satellite launch vehicle. The OTRAG rocket was designed to be an inexpensive alternative to the European (French) rocket Ariane and the NASA Space Shuttle.

Schwehm didn't want to create a purely historical documentary because OTRAG is referred to a scientific and historical sideline project of aerospace significance. Schwehm was most interested in revealing the universal human interest part of the story. The themes continue to be universal, lessons necessary to be learned and noteworthy to shed light on the entrepreneurial spirit.

Schwehm describes, "A few young men had a dream of conquering space." He continues, "They went about it with the typical youthful ardor and commitment as do present day employees of a small start-up...going to great lengths to make their dream a reality." He explains further, "In doing so, they willingly ignored the worst of the pitfalls." Namely he makes reference here to the project site location which was set in the heart of the African Jungle and a forced alliance with a notorious despot in the African Congo region.

Schwehm felt it important to give the former OTRAG employees the opportunity to share their insane story and the reasons they chose the African country for the building site of their rockets. Schwehm wanted to unravel the process of the group dynamics of young enthusiasts working hard to accomplish their dreams that came with unnecessary choices that cost seven employees their lives.

Schwehm acknowledges that their story is unusual for another reason. He shares, "The documentation of the company from beginning to end is official but never published until now. For example: there are Super 8 films shot by employees who filmed so that they'd have something to show for their 'extraordinary work' when they returned home." And, "There are the meticulously filmed and recorded 16 mm images the company took to show to its shareholders."

After forty years of silence, the memories shared from those involved in this unbelievable untold story is what Schwehm calls, "an untapped treasure of archives" ripe for an unveiling. The excitement and surprise Schwehm portrays in  Fly Rocket Fly is a tale so absurd it has to be true.