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First Person

Filmmaker Ian Cheney explores the idea of a habitable Mars

Could we really live on the Red Planet? In “Bluespace,” the documentary filmmaker from Northampton looks at the possibility.

Craig F. Walker/Globe staff

Bluespace explores the imagined terraforming of Mars. Terraforming is an idea that originated in science fiction of turning an alien world into a livable, Earth-like world. It presents an interesting thought experiment for exploring our relationship to our own planet. What kind of Earth are we trying to make here?

I was living in New York City during Hurricane Sandy, and it suddenly refocused people’s attention on cities’ relationship to the water. Millions of Americans live along the coast, and my experience in New York was just a microcosm of what many of us are experiencing and will continue to experience as the seas rise. You wander the banks of the Gowanus Canal [in Brooklyn] or reflect back on how we’ve treated our harbor here in Boston, and you see pretty quickly that we’ve either taken our resources for granted or lacked the perspective we’ve needed to manage them appropriately or sustainably.


The film does not have a traditional narrative. There’s a lot of space for viewers to connect the dots and ask questions and wonder about the relationships between Earth and Mars. It’s not quite an experimental film, but more so than the ones I’ve done in the past. It’s not like Keanu Reeves is on a bus and there’s a bomb. It’s not that type of film.

Mars has been in the news a lot lately. I don’t think my film will have quite the same distribution life that Matt Damon’s [The Martian] has, but I think it is the right time to begin asking questions about how we might approach a relationship to another planet. It seems like at some point humans will colonize Mars, and that raises the question of what kind of planet we will make it.

BLAST OFF Ian Cheney’s Bluespace screens on March 6 at 12:30 p.m. at CinemaSalem as part of the Salem Film Fest, which runs from March 3 to 10. Visit for information.