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Fellowship Grant leads to SXSW Premiere: Introducing Nelly's Revolutionary 'Doppelgängers3'

12 February 2024By Hannah Ashford

By Hannah Ashford

Berlin, Germany — The Karman Project, a globally recognised non-profit foundation promoting peace and security in space through international cooperation, is proud to support a revolutionary project from Karman Fellow Dr. Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian that integrates four fields of expertise - intergenerational trauma, neuroscience, quantum physics and space exploration - in a profound cultural documentary. Nelly, a renowned artist who also serves as SETI Institute’s Designer of Experiences and the Vice-Chair of the International Astronautical Federation Technical Committee on the Cultural Utilization of Space, is known for her pioneering work in integrating nuanced cultural considerations into space exploration. Following her Karman Fellowship in 2022, Nelly committed to a journey to ask: Can the experience of the past help us to imagine new futures in space? 

As part of the Karman Fellowship Program, Karman Fellows traverse global issues informed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals that space technologies can contribute to solving, together with challenges that exist within the space sector. As a ‘space-for-impact’ foundation, the Karman Project supports the Fellows in addressing six key Impact Themes: Sustainability, Education, Empowerment, Cooperation, Science and Inspiration. The foundation was proud to support Nelly's work - spanning the Science and Inspiration Themes - having contributed to Nelly's analogue mission at the Astroland Interplanetary Agency in Spain. 

This provocation has led us to the upcoming World Premiere of Nelly's latest documentary feature film 'Doppelgängers3' to be presented at SXSW Film Festival March 8th - 16th 2024. Shot in Algeria, Armenia and Spain, Doppelgängers3 imagines diasporic and eco-feminist futures in outer space. Doppelgängers3 features Aquanaut Sylvia Earle, Extraterrestrial Intelligence Hunter Jill Tarter, Political Scientist Uday Mehta, Quantum Physicist and Futurist Michio Kaku, Senior Astronomer and Entrepreneur Franck Marchis, Trans Rights Activist Lilit Martirosyan, Neurologist and Gene Master Kári Stefánsson, Astrobiologist and Terraforming Expert Chris McKay and many more great minds. SXSW Film Festival programmer, Jim Kolmar singles out Doppelgängers3 as “a wild, provocative film, quite unlike anything else we saw this year. We love the vibe."

A project grounded in science

With private and public developments in the field of space exploration, the space industry is welcoming new actors from the business sector. Unfortunately, while this allows for further democratised access to space, it remains accessible only to a select few. Current missions seem to offer a limited approach to future visions in space, with concepts such as extraction, ‘colonisation’, capitalisation and a repetition of historical actions on Earth being proposed as the future of humanity in space.

Meanwhile, collective trauma and its impact on epigenetic modifications are at the forefront of contemporary neuropsychology research, as presented in the list of papers below. It is now proven that collective trauma carries a psychological impact across generations, with the assumption that diasporas across the globe may share that impact as well.

- Hirschberger, G. (2018). Collective trauma and the social construction of meaning. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1441.

- Bowers, M. E., & Yehuda, R. (2016). Intergenerational transmission of stress in humans. Neuropsychopharmacology, 41(1), 232-244.

- Conching, A. K. S., & Thayer, Z. (2019). Biological pathways for historical trauma to affect health: A conceptual model focusing on epigenetic modifications. Social Science & Medicine, 230, 74-82.

- Ogden, P. (2019). Acts of triumph: An interpretation of Pierre Janet and the role of the body in trauma treatment. In Rediscovering Pierre Janet (pp. 200-209). Routledge.

Never before have these four fields of expertise — intergenerational trauma, neuroscience, quantum physics and space exploration — been integrated into an experiment, a feature film and a paper to be presented at the International Astronautical Congress 2024. This presentation will be part of the decolonial space (E1.2) and space culture session (E1.9) within the space education and outreach symposium.

Doppelgängers3 is not a conventional science documentary about a speculative plan for the moon. It asks: what if we make a plan for the moon that includes voices from the periphery, and nations that have known the perils of a colonialist mindset first-hand? In this film, three stories unite distinct locations in the formulation of a utopian community. At the same time, we gain unique access to a new analogue space training site run by Astroland Interplanetary Agency: a deep cave in Spain where astronauts are trained to live in close quarters and to explore the unpredictable and the unknown.

Dr. Ben Hayoun-Stépanian, a London-based filmmaker of Armenian and Algerian descent, believes that there is no such thing as linear storytelling when it comes to the borders on Earth and potential futures in extraterrestrial lands. Indeed, her own family’s experience is one of constant movement and displacement. This film creatively portrays non-linear narratives, the latest developments in quantum physics and historical arcs of immigration and colonisation. 

In the film, Nelly is not on her own. She collaborates with her two doppelgängers — Lucia Kagramanyan, a DJ from Yerevan, and Myriam Amroun, a cultural producer and curator from Algiers — to interview scientists, innovators and forward thinkers. They reflect on histories of civilisation, diasporas, and the movement of populations from territories to territories, land to sea, land to the sun, water to land; and Earth to the Moon. Together, they prepare for a new utopian moon society. 

At the heart of Doppelgängers3 is plurality, multiverses and the understanding that belonging doesn’t come in one shape and form. This original film acts as a template for new politics and transnational thinking. 

As well as a feature-length hybrid documentary, Ben Hayoun-Stépanian is using Doppelgängers3 to create a series of live events and debates on decolonising the space sector, the project is also part of a multidisciplinary paper which will be presented at the International Astronautical Congress in October 2024. 

Hannah Ashford, Managing Director of The Karman Project Foundation says:

"Dr. Ben Hayoun-Stépanian's pioneering work in integrating nuanced cultural considerations into space exploration has been taken to a new level with Doppelgängers3. The audience is invited to embrace colour, creativity and chaos whilst reflecting on the voices that are too often sidelined in critical discourse. This project is grounded in compelling research, and The Karman Project Foundation is proud to support such innovation at the intersection of culture, science and exploration." 

Dr. Franck Marchis, Senior Astronomer and Director of Unistellar Citizen Science, SETI Institute, Scientific Advisor and contributor to Doppelgängers3 says: 

"Doppelgängers3 goes beyond traditional documentaries, merging neuroscience and quantum physics with humour and passion. It not only highlights groundbreaking space science, epigenetics, and trauma studies but also fosters new dialogues and collaborations, notably within the SETI Institute. The project’s influence is significant, offering fresh perspectives in space science and culminating in a joint paper for the International Astronautical Congress in October 2024.”

For updates or more information visit www.doppelgangers.space

Doppelgängers3 has its world premiere at the renowned SXSW 2024. It is selected for the Feature Documentary, Vision Category which promotes audacious filmmakers, risk-taking artists in the new cinema landscape who demonstrate raw innovation and creativity in documentary and narrative filmmaking.


Doppelgängers3, A film by Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian, Photography by Nick Ballón.


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