What Happens to Humans When They Are Isolated From Earth? – SXSW Filmmaker In Focus

The 2020 SXSW Film Festival is coming up fast! Before you make your way down to Austin, TX, get to know the films in our lineup a little bit better with our Filmmaker In Focus series.

Check out our Q&A with directors Katherine Gorringe and Lauren DeFillippo as they tells us about their film Red Heaven, which will World Premiere in the Documentary Feature Competition.

"We had had our eye on SXSW since we first started this project. We felt early on that this was a SX film. SX celebrates stories about science and has often programmed films on space exploration, so we knew this could be a perfect home for Red Heaven." – Directors Katherine Gorringe and Lauren DeFillippo

In your own words, what does this film mean to you?

Katherine Gorringe and Lauren DeFillippo: What first struck us about this story is that it offers an incredible vantage point from which to observe humanity — a year on "Mars", isolated from the rest of the world. Ultimately Red Heaven is about our fundamental needs as human beings. It’s a film that uncovers why we dream of living on a distant planet and what that says about our future on this Earth.

What motivated you to tell this story?

KG/LD: We were coming out of graduate school at Stanford, studying documentary film, in the heart of Silicon Valley; at a time when space exploration and traveling to Mars had reemerged in the public consciousness. It was also the moment when climate change was becoming a more prominent threat to the future of humanity. We wanted to interrogate this new fascination with sending humans to Mars. What does this dream of living on Mars say about our culture, about human beings?

We had seen a lot of films that either looked at the technical challenges of getting humans to Mars, or simply glorified the idea. We were interested in the complex, human side of the story – the intensity of living in a place that is totally inhospitable to us as a species all the while being completely isolated from everything you’ve ever known. We felt that was the most fascinating part, yet it was being repeatedly overlooked in the race to get to Mars.

We started to research possible stories that spoke to this question and we quickly learned about the Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation, where six people would soon be entering a small dome where they would live isolated from the rest of the world for an entire year as if they were on Mars. We immediately knew this was our story.

How did you find your subject?

KG/LD: We contacted the project’s lead researchers, who right away told us that a documentary would be impossible and that many other producers and broadcasters had already tried to get access. The researchers made clear that this is a real science experiment, funded by NASA, where they are collecting data on the experience of living on Mars and we can’t just show up and starting shooting in the middle of it! But they agreed to let us come and shoot while the crew was spending their last days on Earth.

We flew to Hawaii and got to know the crew, where we came up with the idea to give them cameras to film their own experience. When the doors shut, the crew had our cameras and agreed to capture their experience, and we directed from afar, sending shot lists and interview questions during the mission.

What do you want the audience to take away?

KG/LD: We hope that this film inspires audiences to look at their own fundamental needs as human beings, what they can and can’t live without, and that they come away with a question about why humans strive to explore and expand our boundaries. And when the credits come up, we hope everyone is infused with a love for Earth in all it’s natural glory that we so often take for granted.

What made you choose SXSW to showcase your film to the world?

KG/LD: We had had our eye on SXSW since we first started this project. We felt early on that this was a SX film. SX celebrates stories about science and has often programmed films on space exploration, so we knew this could be a perfect home for Red Heaven. And SXSW has an amazing reputation for being a very filmmaker-friendly festival, which goes a long way.

Add Red Heaven to your SXSW Schedule. Stay tuned as we share more interviews with our SXSW 2020 filmmakers!

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Red Heaven - Photo by Brendan Hall

By Neha Aziz