Remember the old song, “Would You Like to Swing on a Star?” Humans eventually came close to that on July 20, 1969, when astronauts first walked on the moon, but maybe there is still more that can be explored, like maybe Mars? Well, the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation project explored this idea, creating a simulation of a space trip to the red planet. Now, one documentary, titled “Red Heaven,” coming from the filmmaking duo Lauren DeFilippo & Katherine Gorringe, takes a look at such a project. I had a conversation with Katherine this week.
First, tell us a bit in general about the project.
“Red Heaven” is a feature documentary film that follows six people who volunteered to live in near isolation for a year, in a 1000 square foot dome on the slopes of the remote Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. They are simulating the first human life on Mars. The documentary goes beyond a simple exaltation of progress and innovation, instead delving into deeper questions about how we conceive of what’s possible, how we understand our own human nature, and our relationship with our own Earth.
To be honest, you would have had to drag me to a science class in high school or college. What drew me to this project was science fiction cinema. I watched amazing films – “Things to Come”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Total Recall” – that had fantastic, extremely detailed, and disparate visions of the future, which all seemed to reflect so acutely the fears and aspirations of the time in which they were made. Except maybe 2001, which stands alone as a truly brilliant and perpetually relevant statement about humanity and our place in the universe. Anyway, my co-director Lauren DeFilippo and I, living in Silicon Valley as graduate students in film at Stanford at the time, became fascinated with the idea we heard often that we are “living in the future.” So we wanted to know what the new vision of the future is.
Tell us what it was like getting access to film about the HI-SEAS project.
We took a big risk making this film. We heard from the managers of the project only two weeks before the crew was entering the dome that we could film. So we packed our bags and flew to the big island of Hawaii. At this time we had been told that they had been approached by many other filmmakers, and it was impossible to make a film during the simulation. It is a research study, so ruining the conceit of the simulation would be extremely detrimental. We went anyway, hoping to build relationships with the crew and the researchers, and find a way to tell their story. It was a crazy thing to do, but by the time the crew shut the door on the habitat, they had generously agreed to open their lives to us. We left them with cameras to capture their experiences inside the dome. And now we have exclusive access to make this feature-length documentary.
As Kim Binsted, the head researcher for HI-SEAS, told us with a smile, “Getting to Mars has been 20 years in the future for decades. That said, it really could be 20 years in the future this time.” We don’t know when we’ll get to Mars. We’re more interested in the poetry of such an aspiration, and we’ll leave the innovation to the rocket scientists.
What future projects are you working on?
After “Red Heaven” I’ll be developing a film on approaches to healing mental illness. Lauren teaches film at University of Florida.