Going to Mars - The Nikki Giovanni Project
In her homeland, the poet and activist Nikki Giovanni (1943) is considered a legend. For over 50 years, her work has given a strong, cross-generational voice to the African-American experience. But how does one tell the story of such a provocative artist, a historian who questions history, a personality who fiercely guards the power over her biography? Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson have taken up the challenge. With great ingenuity and artistic openness, the filmmakers have created a portrait that draws on the poet's radical imagination. In search for biographical traces at the very center of the poet’s art, the directors employed various documentary means such as Cinéma Vérité, extensive archival material, and a visual translation of Giovanni’s poems. The cinematic elements are put together without any hierarchy through brilliant montage work and the polyrhythmic film music. The balanced use of the filmic elements and the abandonment of a linear narrative style show that the title "Going to Mars" is two things: the quotation of a very well-known poem by Nikki Giovanni and an example of a concrete implementation of the poem's poetic, political and personal demand for other narrators, narratives, and narrative styles: "The trip to Mars can only be understood by Black Americans."
“Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” was awarded with the Grand Jury Prize (U.S. documentary competition) at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson
Joe Brewster is a Harvard educated psychiatrist who uses this training in when approaching the social issues that he tackles as an artist and filmmaker. Brewster wrote and directed his first film, "The Keeper" (1995), after a two year-long stint as a prison psychiatrist at the notorious Brooklyn House of Detention. "The Keeper" was screened at the Edinburgh, Toronto, and Sundance Festivals, receiving numerous awards. In the past three decades, Brewster has produced and directed narrative films, documentary films, and immersive media. His feature documentary, "American Promise" (2013) was nominated for three Emmys and won the Jury Prize at Sundance. In 2022, Brewster produced the O-DOGG: An Angeleno Take on Othello, featuring Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter, for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. His groundbreaking room-scale production premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and received a jury prize at the Tribeca Festival in 2021 for Best Immersive Experience.
Filmmaker, artist, and author, Michèle Stephenson pulls from her Haitian and Panamanian roots and experience as a social justice lawyer to think radically about storytelling and disrupt the imaginary in non-fiction spaces. She tells emotionally driven personal stories of resistance and identity that center on the lived experiences of communities of color in the Americas and the Black diaspora. Her feature documentary, "American Promise" (2013), was nominated for three Emmys and won the Jury Prize at Sundance. Her work "Stateless" (2020) was nominated for a Canadian Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. Most recently, Stephenson collaborated as co-director on the magical realist virtual reality trilogy series on racial terror, "The Changing Same", which was nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Interactive Media Innovative category. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival, and won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Immersive Narrative at the Tribeca Film Festival.