5Q's w/Hank Leukart "The Mars Academy" Director


FRIDAY BLOCK D | 3:30 pm

#1: Can you describe your movie and why somebody should see it in less than 280 characters?

 In The Mars Academy, four scientists travel to Brazil’s impoverished City of God, in Rio de Janeiro, to teach kids about space science and surprise them with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the chance to do their own exploring on Mars using an actual NASA spacecraft.

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 #2: What do you want the Borrego Springs Film Festival audience to know about your film that isn’t obvious from its title?

 In the movie, scientists take kids out on a crazy pirate ship in the South Atlantic to an island off the coast of Rio De Janeiro to help them control an underwater robot. It’s cool for the kids, but it’s also really fun to watch on film. Too many people think of school and education as boring, but these scientists prove that it can be exciting and inspiring, if kids are given the freedom to explore and learn organically.

 #3: What is your movie making background?  Tell us about yourself.

 I’ve worked as a professional filmmaker and television producer for the past ten years, though I made my first film (about the psychological implications of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as an adult!) during college. I’ve produced a variety of documentary television shows for American television networks, including DIRECTV's "Religion of Sports," CNN's "Declassified," CBS's "Amazing Race” and “Big Brother,” ABC’s “Expedition Impossible,” and Discovery's “The Wheel." I’ve also directed a lot of adventure-travel films, including Bears Ears, an award-winning, documentary short, about the political controversy surrounding President Donald Trump's attempt to eradicate the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. 

#4: What was the biggest lesson learned in getting your film made?

 This is the first feature-length film that I directed, filmed, and edited myself (with producing help from Jeff Marlow and two additional, indispensable cinematographers). Though I’ve had plenty of experience working on television shows with enormous crews, I understand now, in a much deeper way, the essential value of every single person who normally works on a production crew.  Of course, I had do most everything myself on this film because we had very little money -- and nearly all of it went to the kids for the educational outreach project. But, I hope that, for my next feature-length project, there’s some money available to pay more people to help out so I don’t burn myself out (especially in post-production).

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 #5: What does the future hold for your film and you?

I’m hoping The Mars Academy will be seen at some additional film festivals, so that more people can be inspired by these amazing kids.  The scientists also hope to show the film at universities, hoping to raise funds to continue the educational outreach program around the world for many years to come. As for me, I love documentary filmmaking and hope to keep working on projects that combine adventure and travel with socially-conscious issues like education, environmental conservation, and human rights.

Matthew Nothelfer1 Comment