Science and film don’t always mix. Just about every action movie will have one scene, whether it be a Speed-like bus jump, or a patented Michael Bay fiery explosion that defies the laws of physics and common sense. Even the more “science-y” movies like Gravity, The Martian, or Interstellar are nitpicked to death by scientists for every inaccuracy. Still, filmmakers do a much better job portraying science in an inspirational, exciting, and thoughtful way than your average astrophysicist. If only films and scientists could work together to create an inspirational work of art while also providing real life context for the science behind it.
It turns out The Art Theater has been doing just that with their Science on Screen series. If you haven’t made it to one of the five screenings, you’ve been missing out. Each screening consists of a great film with scientific themes followed by an extensive talk and Q&A with a local expert in that area. Some film/scientist pairings so far this series have included Close Encounters of the Third Kind with Staerkel Planetarium Director Dave Leake, Ex Machina with Emeritus Professor of Molecular and Integrative Physiology Rhanor Gillette, and the most popular screening so far, Gattaca with Director of the Institute of Genomic Biology Gene Robinson.
Jessie Seitz, Special Events and Outreach Coordinator & Assistant Programmer for The Art Theater is very happy with the series so far. “It has been tremendous,” Seitz gushes regarding the community response. Most audience members stay through the movie as well as the 40 minutes to an hour of post-film discussion. It’s easy to imagine the fascinating conversations possible when you get a genomic biologist talking about genetically designed babies in Gattaca, or get the director of a planetarium discussing the possibilities of extraterrestrial life. For Jessie Seitz, her favorite talk was after Empire of the Ants, the classic B movie about giant ants terrorizing an island community. For Seitz, it came down to the speaker, May Berenbaum, Professor and Head at the Department of Entomology at UIUC. "She was great. It was fascinating gaining an understanding of the insect world.”
The good news for anyone who wasn’t able to catch any of the first five Science on Screen showings is that The Art Theater is adding two more this April. On April 2, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is being shown followed by a talk with Dr. Alice Pawley, Associate Professor at the School of Engineering Education and an affiliate faculty member in the Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies Program and the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University. Bombshell tells the story of the Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr, who when not starring in movies invented a radio system to detect Nazi U-Boats. The discussion will be about the cross section of gender theory and science.
Two weeks later on April 16th, Wes Anderson’s new stop motion animated movie Isle of Dogs is going to be followed by a conversation with Dr. Jennifer Dungar, Assistant Professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at UIUC. The movie is about a boy in Japan who is looking for his dog in a island completely run by dogs. The talk afterword will be about the lifestyles of dogs, something any pet owner should enjoy.
Even better news is that The Art Theater is planning on bringing the series back next year for another run of Science on Screen. The series was originated at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, Massachusetts. With help from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Science on Screen is now a national initiative that provides grants to local theaters to put on these screenings. The Coolidge Corner Theater has a library of hundreds of films with scientific topics ranging from The Physics of Nuclear Warfare to Understanding the Social Science of Racism. This broad and diverse library of possible screenings means the next Science on Screen series at The Art Theater should be just as exciting and cool as this first incarnation.
For science lovers or people just looking to see a fun movie and talk about it, Science on Screen is something you should be checking out this April and hopefully for years in the future at The Art Theater.
Photos from The Art Theater website