Five-minute film on young girl’s journey from Mumbai to being part of team on its way to Mars set to be screened worldwide for a year.
Bengaluru: A three-member team of Indians and a Nepali citizen has won a NASA-backed competition in the film category.
Divya More and Mayukh Goswami, both from Mumbai, and Subigya Basnet created the winning film, Rendezvous with Mars, which is about a young girl’s journey from her home in Mumbai to an astronaut on her way to Mars.
The five-minute film won the grand prize at the international Project Mars Film and Poster Competition and will be screened worldwide for a year. Contesting teams had to create videos that spoke about the journey for the first crewed mission from Earth to Mars.
The team received the award in Washington in November, taking home a certificate and $10,000 in cash prize. Cinemark, the theatre chain in the US, had screened the film across 272 theatres in the country on 11 October before the premier of First Man, the movie on Neil Armstrong by the academy award-winning director Damien Chazelle.
The team and judges
While More is a Mumbai-based writer and director, Goswami is now a New York-based designer and animator. Basnet is of Nepali origin and a US-based video producer.
More studied short films as a part her audiovisual production course at Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Pune. Goswami is an engineer who’s worked as an animator in Mumbai before going to New York University, where he met Basnet.
“This cross-country collaboration was an attempt by us to tell humane stories, without any boundaries,” the trio said.
“The film seeks to find a window into a human heart in conflict over its dreams and the act of being severed from everything it holds dear. The protagonist’s childhood is a metaphor for human civilisation itself — with her curiosity and gumption. Her story involves her recognising the childhood dream that we are all meant to be carrying.”
The seven-judge panel of the event consisted of prominent people from US and EU.
The panel included Gareth Edwards, director of movies such as Rogue One and Godzilla, Joshua Grossberg, VP, Creative, of McCann New York, Samantha Christoforetti, astronaut at the European Space Agency, Mickey Fisher, producer of Nat Geo’s Mars, Nicole Stott, a retired NASA astronaut and artist, Bobak Ferdowsi, system engineer at NASA-JPL, and Tim Dodd, a space evangelist.
More said that she and Goswami had been trying to collaborate on animation projects for a while, but nothing really pushed them to it until they found out about this competition. The guidelines meant that they had specific criteria to work with, and thus enabled them to dive head-first into it, as soon as they heard about it in June 2018.
“There was a lot of talking,” said More. “A lot of going back and forth happened over Skype.” More would provide a story input while the other two would come back with structure, character sketches, and the early animation.
The team was clear that they wanted to do a metaphorical story, using devices such as photographs and dreams in the film. And these metaphors were to be used to tell a story about the protagonist’s life, her struggles, life experiences, environment, and her own personal journey. They also needed to capture a relatable sense of wonder as characters react on reaching the planet Mars.
‘Didn’t want music video’
More said their main concern was that the video shouldn’t appear to be a music one. “We wanted it to have a cinematic feel,” she said. The team also stayed clear of live-action animation, something that other teams had attempted to do.
“Animation enables us to easily show emotions such as wonder and innocence,” explained More. “There’s that shiny hint of light in the eyes of a child who’s excited, which you can see with animation but might lose with live-action films.”
Goswami agreed. “I believe that animation and film-making is a great way to get big ideas out there,” he said.
More and her team knew that they wanted to show the story of the protagonist and her journey in familiar surroundings. “When we started writing, we decided we should show Mumbai, considering there are so many Indians in NASA as well,” More said.
The story came to them at the end of July and early August, and they just had about 50 days to turn it in. “We wanted to do a lot more,” said More. “But we were working on a time crunch.”
A human story
More said the judges resonated with the idea of a character’s journey from Earth to Mars and appreciated it at a panel discussion towards the end of the awards ceremony.
“We decided not to focus on the scientific aspects of a Mars mission either, as this event was clearly NASA and the judges reaching out to ask artists to become a part of the space community as well,” said More, elaborating on the storyline decision-making process.
“We decided to tell a more human story. All countries are trying to get to Mars on their own, and we feel like if there’s an international collaboration, the process might be more productive for humankind. That’s the story we wanted to tell.”
This thought process is reflected in the last scene of their film, where, as the background music builds up, our protagonist marvels at the red planet, she turns to see her co-astronauts, now children, marvelling at it too.
After they were invited to Washington at the award ceremony for their win, it was surreal, they said. “To know that the director of Star Wars has seen our film was in itself an amazing feeling, let alone winning the whole thing,” said Basnet.