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developmental and stem cell biologists

Science on Screen

Posted by , on 20 July 2010

If you’re annoyed by the unconvincing lab work on shows like CSI, and would like to show the world what real scientists are like, why not make a film yourself? You’d be surprised to find out how many films by or with scientists there are, both fiction and non-fiction. This month alone, two organizations involved with science films have either screened or collected a number of submissions, and I also recently found out that one of my favourite documentaries (about the daily life and careers of science graduate students) is available to view online.

Last week, Planet SciCast screened the winners of a competition in which schools and scientists had made fun and informative films about science. All submissions are available to watch on their website, and the awards ceremony was held at the Royal Institution in London last Friday. If you liked the plasticine embryo model previously featured on the Node, you might also enjoy this stop motion clay video about mitosis at Planet SciCast.

While the SciCast films are predominantly factual and made by students, the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York is currently collecting a wide range of both amateur and professional, fictional and factual, films for their annual festival in October. Their late deadline is on August 15, so if you happen to have a film lying around, you can still submit it. Last year my own tiny five-minute film about Lab Waste screened in the ISFF “quirky shorts” program, and I was impressed with all the other (far more professional!) films that were shown that night. ISFF lasts more than a week, and screens full length films as well as shorts.

ISFF promotes interaction between scientists and film makers, and many of their submissions are made by film professionals, but involve scientists as main characters or writers or consultants. My favourite film that I saw at ISFF last year was a French film called MEPE, which also won one of the festival’s awards.


MEPE, a French detective film about biology… It’s entirely in French and this version is unfortunately without subtitles, but even if you don’t speak the language you can appreciate the style and quality, and maybe even some of the humour.

My own little movie (more a slideshow…), which screened on the same night as MEPE at ISFF last year, is quite literally a work of garbage, and a completely different kind of film, so you can see the variety at ISFF – even within one evening of programming.

Lab Waste from Eva Amsen on Vimeo.

If film festivals, artsy French dark comedy, school projects, or pictures of garbage are not your thing, then you might still be interested in watching the full-length documentary Naturally Obsessed about three graduate students in Larry Shapiro’s lab at Columbia University in New York.  No matter what you’re working on and no matter where you are in your career – whether you’ve just started graduate school or finished long ago – you have to see this film. The three students are completely different, and you’ll undoubtedly identify with at least one of them and understand their frustrations and/or celebrations. It’s available to watch online.

All these films involved working scientists either as subjects, producers, advisers, or judges, so there are lots of opportunities to get involved and do your part to represent science on screen.




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