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Small Town Universe

NY Premiere

Director: Katie Dellamaggiore

United States, 2024, 90 min

Shooting Format:Digital

Festival Year:2024

Category:Documentary Feature

WINNER: Audience Award

Crew:Producers: Katie Dellamaggiore, Nelson Dellamaggiore, Tracie Holder. Editors: Nelson Dellamaggiore, Leslie Simmer. Cinematographers: Tijah Bumgarner, Jeff Fisher, Brian Schulz, Derek Wiesehahn. Animation by: Lottie Kingslake. Music by: Jherek Bischoff.


Small Town Universe paints an intimate portrait of life in Green Bank, West Virginia, home to the world's most powerful radio telescope and the only U.S. town where Wi-Fi and cell phones are banned. In this uniquely radio-quiet community, scientists use the telescope to search for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and advance the field of radio astronomy while the residents experience defining moments of life and loss; what unites them is a shared connection to the universe, science, and each other.


About the director

Katie is an Emmy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker and commercial director. Her feature directorial debut, Brooklyn Castle, won the SXSW Audience Award, was a New York Times Critic's Pick, and was nationally broadcast by PBS's acclaimed POV series. At Courageous Studios, Warner Bros Discovery's branded content studio, Katie directs bold, culturally relevant premium storytelling for advertisers. She’s directed commercials for Delta, Sleep Number, Subaru, Hulu, Lego, The Salvation Army, Abbott and Micron. Her recent work for Amica won the Digiday Best Brand Series award. Katie's latest feature, Small Town Universe, won the Global Health Competition Award at the Cleveland International Film Festival and received support from the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, the National Endowment for the Arts, Tribeca Film Institute, Catapult Film Fund, The Rogovy Foundation, The Gotham Film & Media Institute and the West Virginia Humanities Council.


Filmmaker's note

One night in 2015, after the birth of our second child, I was discussing with my husband, Nelson, whether a town without cell phones existed. At that time, I was dealing with the sudden loss of my Mom, and my relationship with my cell phone was complicated. I missed her daily phone calls, and as a new mother with two babies under two years old, I relied too much on texts, emails, and social media to fill the void of face-to-face time with friends and colleagues.

So, I did what we all do and Googled it—"Is there a town without cell phones?"—and that's how I discovered Green Bank, West Virginia. The town's unique, unplugged lifestyle immediately caught my attention. What made it even more intriguing was that scientists use the Green Bank Telescope to explore some of science's biggest mysteries, like how the universe began and whether there's intelligent life beyond Earth.

"Small Town Universe," like my first film, "Brooklyn Castle," is a character-driven documentary about a community that defies expectations and stereotypes. The residents of this tiny Appalachian town aren't connected in most modern ways, but over time, I observed a more profound connection they shared, bonded by the pursuit of scientific knowledge. I hope the film reminds people of all the ways we can connect, with or without our devices.

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