THIS BRISK, affectionate documentary is, surprisingly, the first ever made about time capsules. Though the idea gets traced back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it's only in our own century that the notion really thrived, thanks to the pessimistic thoughts of a college professor. In 1936, with fascism on the rise and an awareness of how all cultures inevitably leave behind the barest fragments of their greatness, Dr. Thornwell Jacobs proposed a "Crypt of Civilization" to store a record of daily life. The concept was admired, but it took a Westinghouse PR man to sell such "Crypts" to the masses by coining the marvelous name they go by today: Time capsules.

Once out of academia's hands, time capsules were stripped of their gloomy associations, and became symbols of hope and goodwill. The timeline for opening them dropped from millennia (Dr. Jacobs' treasure chest won't be opened until 8113) to a matter of decades, and people began including less cultural artifacts and more personal material. A Big Sisters organization in Boston, for example, assembles a package of diaries, photos, and letters that the girls look forward to reading as women only 20 years hence. The film is at its best when celebrating this uplifting sense of sending a part of yourself into the future.

Aiming to be fair, director Cathleen O'Connell also interviews an archaeologist, who points out that such self-selected collections are irrelevant to future scientists because of their inevitable bias. No question about that, but I still find it appealing the way people decide to archive only simple, daily pleasures -- from the man who buried items from all his local shops inside a Chevy Vega to the Voyager Record, which presents to extraterrestrials earthly pictures of smiling, contented people, snippets of Bach and Chuck Berry, and not a single image of war. When the 1938-39 New York World's Fair time capsule is opened in 6938 AD, our distant descendants will find wigs, Barney Google comic strips, and a copy of Gone with the Wind. Not the most accurate sample of the times, but presumably there will still be history books to fill them in on the rest.

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