SXSW Exclusive Review: Red Heaven

Year: 2020
Runtime: 77 Minutes
Director: Lauren DeFilippo, Katherine Gorringe

By Erica Richards

One can almost guarantee that NASA, along with the filmmakers and subjects of this documentary, “Red Heaven” (2020), would have never guessed how relevant the content they captured would be during these quarantine times the world is currently facing. Right now, almost the entire population is experiencing—at the very least—anything from social distancing or full isolation due to the global pandemic, COVID-19. People are staying in their homes away from the rest of the world to try to stop the spread of the virus. “Red Heaven” is a different type of isolation story: imagine if MTV’s The Real World took place next to a volcano in Hawaii: six scientists picked to live in a small dome, work together and collect data for NASA to help send astronauts to Mars someday.

The filmmakers are the HI-SEAS crew, trusted to document every aspect of their experience in isolation for a full year. To make another early 2000’s television reference: the film starts off like an MTV Cribs episode and we see a guided layout of the tiny 1200-square foot quarters these six people will share for the next 365 days. A tiny kitchen, a living area, an upstairs with six separate doors that are gateways to six separate rooms for each person, a treadmill in a corner that faces the only window to provide a view to the outside. There are a couple other areas, too: one where all the food is kept and another spot with a heat lamp and virtual reality (crew members can simulate spending time at the beach) and of course, one bathroom, that actually looks pretty decent in size. The most important thing in the bathroom? A timer—to make sure showers are not lasting longer than they should!

red heaven

“This documentary is fascinating and will leave you wanting more footage and more details of their year together. A unique insight on not only the physical limitations of the body—but how far one can push their mental limitations.”

The experience requires a few things from the team: they must fill out surveys every single day so the data can be recorded of how the individuals are feeling and interacting with each other, they must wear a tracking device around their neck, as well as conduct experiments like growing plants. No more than twice a week for a few hours, they are allowed to leave the habitat via the “airlock” for an “E.V.A” or an “Extra-Vehicular Activity”, so they can explore the exterior area for geological research. Even so, they are still not fully experiencing the outside world. Each person is in a full body suit that contains a ventilation system, so there is not even fresh air hitting their body—they are still completely sealed off from the condition of the Earth.

Breath-takingly wide landscape shots piece together the timeline of the year as we see the crew go from feeling “excellent” according to the surveys, to “poor” and then to “very good”. We see them struggle with being annoyed by each other. We see a romance bloom. We see them miss their family and crave more video messages and emails from them. We see them worry about current events, like a terrorist attack on one’s hometown. We see them, in a nerve-wracking moment, almost lose air in their body suit while on an E.V.A. We see them work together to solve a major issue within their living conditions and feel like a team again. We see them annoyed during interviews because every single sound can be heard from anywhere in the living quarters. We see one of them run a marathon on a treadmill. We never see any of them shed a tear.

This documentary is fascinating and will leave you wanting more footage and more details of their year together. A unique insight on not only the physical limitations of the body—but how far one can push their mental limitations. What does it really take to make and keep a human happy, healthy, and safe? All for the sake of future space exploration. These people are brave, courageous, and selfless for contributing themselves and their lives for this research.

5 stars

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