Few fields of human endeavor are more in need of effective visual communication than the sciences, and as the tempo of our discovery and innovation continues to accelerate this need will only become more pronounced. The good news is that motion picture content is remarkably adept at translating scientific concepts into narratives that broader audiences can appreciate, and film is one of the few media that can reproduce the excitement and sheer awe of scientific exploration. The space where art and science meet is an inspiring space.
I have been fortunate that my documentary training has involved so many projects about the sciences, from National Geographic shows about King Tut to NOVA specials about the cosmos. I remember a day early in my career, as a young apprentice for Reuben Aaronson, when we shot an interview at UCLA’s astronomy department with Dr. Andrea Ghez, one of the world’s leading experts on the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
Over the past several years, and in recent conversations about some upcoming projects, I have begun to think more explicitly about how my career can bring me closer to the sciences. Beyond my personal interest, as a filmmaker and educator I also feel a kind of professional obligation to use my cinematic training to support scientific exploration. It baffles me that the general public does not view science in a sexier light, and the potential for ambassadorship through the motion picture arts is tremendous. Like most non-fiction content, the problem lies not in the subject matter, but in how it is presented to audiences. The mission is clear: how can we as filmmakers present science to a broad base of viewers in ways that do justice to the subject matter?
Thankfully, the past ten years have seen a dramatic rise in short-form film and video projects dedicated to the sciences, from brilliant TED talks and TED-Ed animations, to the video work coming out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to the very exciting aesthetic evolution taking place in traditional broadcast documentaries. Last year I attended an evening event at the Motion Picture Academy called Capturing the Final Frontier, where NASA staff were invited to present their recent animation work alongside some of Hollywood’s most accomplished visual effects artists. Hearing these scientists speak at the invitation of cinema’s most respected organization gave me much hope for what we can do to help shape how science and scientists are viewed in our society.
The final view from Anchorage Street: memories, and memories. Looking forward to what comes next.