'Madame Mars': SF State-Produced Documentary Calls for Giant Leap for Womankind

Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Photo of Analog Mars trainee participating in simulation at Mars Desert Research Station

In the 1967 made-for-late-night-television movie Mars Needs Women, an elderly man scoffs at the idea that females should be part of Martian civilization.

“That’s a gag. It’s a prank!” he exclaims, shaking his head.

This clip illustrates the underrepresentation of women in space and inspires Madame Mars: Women and the Quest for Worlds Beyond, a new 32-minute documentary directed by Professor Emerita of Cinema Jan Millsapps, a longtime feminist and space enthusiast. Women comprise about 10 percent of the humans who have flown into space, according to Space.com. Women are also largely under-represented in space science and technology.

“I grew up in the space age,” says Millsapps, who taught at SF State from 1987 to 2015. “I remember Sputnik as a kid. Apollo landed when I was in college, but I didn’t think I would be able to participate. I was sent to art class instead of calculus.”

Millsapps will present Madame Mars at the United Nations’ UNISPACE + 50 Symposium on June 18 in Vienna. She plans to screen the documentary on campus and at other Bay Area venues later this year.

She is also working on multimedia curriculum to encourage girls and other under-represented youth to engage with interactive activities related to space travel.

Millsapps began working on Madame Mars in 2014, soon after she was selected as a candidate for Mars One, a private-sector project that aims to establish a human settlement on the planet in the 2030s. She also wrote a novel, Venus on Mars (Jaded Ibis Press, 2013) about women’s roles in the search for life on Mars.

Though she no longer plans to travel to space herself, Millsapps holds hope for the future of space travel for women. Mars One is the “only organization pushing toward inclusion and diversity in space,” she says. “What will [humans] do when we get there? We need to plan this together if we’re going to figure out how communities will function on Mars.”

San Francisco State’s Documentary Film Institute and Veteran Documentary Corps, along with Transmedia SF, produced Madame Mars. About 50 Cinema and Design students contributed to the film, serving as crew members, editors and researchers.

They interviewed notable women in astrophysics, including NASA astronaut Yvonne Cagle (B.A., Biochemistry, ’81) and Mars One finalist Kenya Armbrister (B.A, History, ’04).

Carolina Gratianne, a Madame Mars associate producer, says the film will not only inspire women and girls to pursue careers in STEM, but also spark anyone’s curiosity in the sciences and life beyond Earth. Gratianne filmed the interview with retired NASA engineer Donna Shirley, who designed the first Mars rover.

“This film serves as an inspiration for young women to see what is possible, that there are no limitations to what they can do and what can they achieve,” says Gratianne (B.A., Cinema, ’14; M.A., Cinema, ’16). “I came out with a lot of respect about who would go to Mars, pushing boundaries into new civilizations and new ways of thinking.”

— Matt Itelson



Photo: An Analog Mars trainee participates in a simulation at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. Photo courtesy of Jan Millsapps.

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