SXSW Film Review: A Space Program

An artful trip to Mars; h/t Ed Wood, Méliès, the Eames, Mother Ann Lee

Rarely does a filmmaker openly admit to being a propagandist. But such is the case of Van Neistat, who, working in collaboration with artist Tom Sachs, sent two women to Mars and filmed the whole thing. Well … kind of.

A Space Program, considered by the artist to be both a documentary and a work of art in and of itself, is a condensed version of an eleven-hour performance that took place at the Park Avenue Armory in 2012. Sachs and his sizable studio of assistants used plywood, epoxy, steel, and tyvek to fashion a to-scale Mars lander (with functioning incinerating toilet), an impressive mission control (complete with “Applause” sign), and a not-so-barren Martian landscape (featuring a Japanese tea-house?). Taking inspiration from Mother Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers and inventor of both the flat broom and circular saw, Sachs decided to send an all-female, two-woman crew into space. Taking her first steps onto the Martian surface, one of the astronauts exclaims, “A woman did this!”

This ticky-tacky mission’s purpose ostensibly mirrors our current fascination with the red planet: Is there life to be found on its surface? No spoilers here, but just know that taking a sample involves removing a part of the Park Avenue Armory’s floor. Discovering how Sachs solves a host of expensive problems inexpensively results in big joy. Need to land a rover on Mars? Just use an Atari Lunar Landing game. Neistat and Sachs give us a throwback to the special effects of cinematic yore – think of the string and miniature models of planets used by Ed Wood, or Méliès.

A Space Program also owes a debt, and rightly gives credit, to the industrial films of Charles and Ray Eames. Just as the Eames’ made films that extolled the virtues of new technologies, Neistat is open about his film as a literal propaganda vehicle, inculcating audiences into the “cult of Tom Sachs” (we’ll save our thoughts on Sachs’ fascist/Fordist studio model for another day). Happily, new comrades can saunter over to The Contemporary Austin, which is currently housing a retrospective of the artist’s boombox sculptures ... including the one he sent to Mars.

A Space Program

Special Events, World Premiere
Tuesday, March 17, 2:15pm, Marchesa
Thursday, March 19, 3pm, Alamo Lamar
AFS PRESENTS BEST OF SXSW screening (tickets sold to general public): Sunday, March 22, noon, Marchesa

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SXSW Film, SXSW, Van Neistat, Tom Sachs, A Space Program, Mother Ann Lee, SXSW Film 2015

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