Dr. Ugur Ortabasi
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…prescient and inspiring…
A Moment in the Sun tells a story of gritty determination about Dr. Ugur Ortabasi, an Australian immigrant from Turkey whose work in nuclear physics pioneered a solar-operated tandem bicycle. While his fame was ephemeral, his hard work and innovation for progressive climate action in the 1980s came at enormous personal cost in the face of a nation frenzied by coal-powered energy.
Ostensibly centred around the scientific engineering involved, the documentary effectively develops a dual purpose; firstly, as a gripping local sports story, but also as a poignant family reunion.
Ortabasi was described by his friends and colleagues as “crazy”, an “eccentric” and a “visionary”, yet even still, no one was prepared to witness the four-seater tandem bicycle win in the World Championship of Solar Vehicles in 1986. Ortabasi brought together volunteers from across the country who were both solar and fitness enthusiasts to participate with him in the race, with riders alternating shifts to ride the bike. This clunky bike could ride at incredible speeds on smooth roads, where the sun “was an extra rider”. However, on rough terrain, the affectionately named ‘Supernova’ would crash and require numerous repairs.
With a mix of archival footage, and animated vignettes, these moments offer an armchair ride to sporting triumph.
Pertinently though, the film is directed by the subject’s family, which instils a uniquely close insight into Ugur’s ferocious commitment to his craft. An emotional pique comes late whereby the bike has been gathering dust in a garage and is finally reunited with its creator after decades’ separation. Not only this, co-director Leslie Ortabasi (the subject’s son) provides personal accounts of his father’s resilience to overcome doubters during his own childhood. As Ugur founded the Solar Energy Research Centre at the University of Queensland, they both go back to the same location where a photo was taken of Ugur decades earlier opening the centre up, on what once was a dusty and abandoned land, to now a bustling metropolitan area.
Although Ugur was an unsung hero in advancing solar energy, and professionally ostracised, the tale of a single individual’s efforts to forge a clean energy future is both prescient and inspiring.