In an ode to 19th century Edinburgh scientist, Royal Astronomer, Charles Piazzi Smyth, Spanish-born film-maker Guillermo Carnero Rosell (pictured below) talked to me about his documentary on the life of Piazzi Smyth, film-making in Spain and Scotland, life in Edinburgh and why Scottish culture feeds his soul. Guillermo has an impressive filmography and CV. He was born in Santa Cruz de Tenerife but moved to Madrid to study film twenty years ago.
“I was born in the Canary Islands but studied film in Madrid. I moved to Madrid in 1996 to study Audiovisual Communication Studies at the University Complutense of Madrid, graduating in 2001. Later, in 2002, I studied for the Master of Creative Documentary at the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.
“When the recession hit Spain, my partner Helena and I decided to leave our home and embrace a new culture and language. Scotland was it for us because I was attracted to Scotland’s cultural identity.
“As a documentary film-maker I want to film subjects that are often ignored by popular culture.
“Within weeks of arriving in Scotland I was involved in theatre and acting. I met lots of people and had some interesting experiences. Our new life was everything we hoped it would be. We were learning English and quickly felt at home.
“Many people know about Charles Piazzi Smyth but for lots of others, the life of this incredibly motivated and resourceful scientist is a mystery.
“I first began looking into the life of Edinburgh’s Royal Astronomer many years ago, long before I came to Scotland. His link with the country and place of my birth – Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands – was a strong one, and is a story that needs to be known and retold.
“He’s one of the first men to really put Edinburgh on the map in terms of astronomy, and his passion was to make Edinburgh a world-class centre of astronomy. He made the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh famous.
“Piazzi Smyth was a very interesting man – who with his wife Jessie Duncan – travelled around the Mediterranean studying the stars from various locations. He spent a long time in Egypt with his wife, doing astronomical research with her. She was a skilled scientist in her own right.
“He was appointed Royal Astronomer in Edinburgh in the 1840s and was based at Calton Hill. He became a professor at Edinburgh University.
“In the decades that followed Piazzi Smyth was challenged by lack of funding and the atmospheric conditions of ‘Auld Reekie’ – Edinburgh’s nickname due to its smog-filled atmosphere. He vowed to continued his studies of the skies by finding clear weather conditions and high altitudes. This prompted his move to Tenerife. Edinburgh owes a lot to Piazzi Smyth. My documentary A Residence Above the Clouds celebrates the life of one of Edinburgh’s most forward-thinking scientists.
“As the director and film-maker I’ve worked with many people to make this documentary happen, and it’s thanks to the amazing talent of my crew, including Andy Lawrence (Regius Professor of Astronomy), Karen Moran (ROE Curator and Librarian) and Trina Mckendrick (Cinematographer) that this film has happened.
“But the film is about Piazzi Smyth’s vision, so our debt of gratitude is to him first and foremost, and his wife, Jessie Duncan.
“They wanted to understand the skies and chart their findings, using Tenerife’s high mountains and clear skies as a way of mapping astronomical activity. Piazzi Smyth is an extremely important Scot; his legacy needs to be celebrated.”
“The film has been a joy to work on. Because I am from Tenerife I can understand Piazzi Smyth’s obsession with using Tenerife as an astronomical starting point for his work at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. I’ve worked with some amazing people.”
A Residence Above The Clouds, a film by Guillermo Carnero Rosell
Televisión Autonómica de Canarias Gobierno de Canarias, Institute for Astronomy The University of Edinburgh, Royal Observatory of Edinburgh, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Museo de la Ciencia y el Cosmos,Universidad de La Laguna, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Teleférico del Teide, Agencia Canaria de Innovación, Investigación y Sociedad de la Información, Oficina de Asuntos Culturales y Científicos de la Embajada Española en Londres
Cinematographer: Trina Mckendrick
Producers: Aurelio Carnero Hernández y Ángel Falcón Cigala
Script: Kevin Theaker and Guillermo Carnero.
Scientific Advisors: Aurelio Carnero Rosell & Andy Lawrence
Assistant: Kayleigh Boyd
Voice Over: David Carpenter
Director: Guillermo Carnero Rosell