The Other Side of Mars

The Other Side of Mars

Documentary, 2019

The documentary film The Other Side of Mars is a “space Odyssey” into the very nature of human perception,  exploring what Martian photography and its history can tell us about our relationship to images.

The documentary endeavour to hack the mystery of images’ grasp over reality was filmed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and neighbouring observatories where we follow roboticist and NASA Mars rover driver Vandi Verma’s routine. She operates the rovers in the Martian terrain relying to a large extent on images and their technological manipulation. Images captured by NASA’s Curiosity Rover engage the viewer into a spectral, immersive experience, despite the sandy chronicles being a mere product of gathered photographic and other sensory data.

The film’s narrative reveals diverse perspectives that can be applied to an image by engaging into a conversation with people of different walks of science whose takes on the scientific usage of photography suggest multiple interpretations of a real object. Mars appears to be an ideal place for an investigation into ontological aspects of vision as it is located far away from the actuality of our lives and does represent that true abstract dimension that sets our brain on a philosophical mode. At the same time Mars for the rover drivers is the space that they know very well visually and that visual aspect allows them to experience it as an actual space. 

By offering a discussion on the manipulation and calibration of the images, as well as the historical usage of photographic technologies within Mars exploration, the film delves into questions of objectivity of science and scientific imaging. However, scientists modify the images in order to extract more otherwise invisible information, leading to the conclusion that photography despite not fully transporting us somewhere else, still makes us see more. Are the eyes looking attentively at particles and colours just mirrors of what they see or perceive something already altered by the very fact of looking and the personal ontology of the observer? The film suggests that a spectral view, consisting of several perspectives, constantly changing, might grant the highest overall truth value to the relationship between representation and reality. These points of views include the labor behind each image viewed which makes seeing itself an entangled activity. As sociologist of science, Janet Vertesi says in the film, “I would say seeing takes work. Seeing requires context. And seeing requires interpretation. There’s no such thing as ”just seeing””.

Produced by Liisa Karpo of napafilms, The Other Side of Mars premiered at DocPoint International Documentary Film Festival and was the recipient of the Testimony on Knowledge Award at Jihlava IDFF. The film’s cinematographer Päivi Kettunen, F.S.C., was awarded the Special Achievement Award of  Cinematography at Red Rock Film Festival, Utah and awarded the Best Technology Film Genre Prize at Vienna Science Film Festival.

Jury statement (Jihlava IDFF): The film shows that even scientific photos of the planet Mars which we might perceive as a pure representation of reality are actually reshaping the reality into something we understand and expect. The extreme example of scientific picturing of an object which we have no direct experience with makes the audience ask: How are the pictures from all the current problems on the Earth reshaped by our expectations and ability to understand.

Country: Finland
Shot in: Pasadena, USA
Year of completion: 2019
Length: 56 min
Format: DCP

Film Festival Screenings

PØLAR Film Festival, AISTIT curated film program, Institut Finlandais, Paris, 05/ 2021
Raw Science Film Festival, Los Angeles, selection 2020, festival delayed to 2021.
Vienna Science Film Festival, selection 2020, festival delayed to 2021.
PariScience International Film Festival, November 2020
55th International Festival of Science Documentary Films Academia Film Olomouc, October 2020
InScience International Film Festival, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, The Other Side of Mars, November 2019.
Jaipur International Film Festival, India, The Other Side of Mars, January 2020.
Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, Check Republic, The Other Side of Mars, October 2019.
Imagine Science Film Festival, New York, USA, The Other Side of Mars, October 2019.
Buffalo International Film Festival, USA, The Other Side of Mars, October 2019.
Bergen International Film Festival, Norway, The Other Side of Mars, September 2019.
Doc Lounge, Tampere, Finland, April 2019.
Doc Point Festival, Helsinki, Finland, March 2019.


Appearing in the film:
Vandi Verma
Rob Manning
Dawn Sumner
Janet Vertesi
Grant Wythoff

Written and directed by Minna Långström
Produced by Liisa Karpo
Production Company: napafilms oy
Cinematography: Päivi Kettunen FSC
Sound design: Pelle Venetjoki
Music: Mira Calix
Editing: Minna Långström
Additional Editing: Nina Ijäs