Whether used by teachers of history or biology, or by directors for bigger productions, cinema has always had a pedagogical function.
Many associations across the globe have understood the potential of cinema in explaining sciences.
This is the case of Cardiff University initiative SciSCREEN. Launched in 2010, it tackles a wide range of scientific issues through contemporary movies.
Dr Jamie Lewis, head of Cardiff SciSCREEN and Lecturer at Cardiff University School of Biosciences, told The Archer about the association’s aims.
He said: “What we wanted to do is to engage people with sciences, with a very broad definition of science. Our target is the general public. We want to attract as many people as possible and not only people who like sciences.
“Cinema is quite a ubiquitous medium, there aren’t many people who don’t enjoy watching a movie so we could easily connect people to sciences through movies.”
Dr Lewis emphasized the importance of debating the screening afterwards as movies are not always correct.
“People may say ‘that’s a good movie’ but then our lecturers point out that some things are not historically or scientifically accurate.”
Matthew Baker, Doctor of Biology from Cardiff University, also warned the false image people might get from eco-movies.
He told The Archer: “I think there’s a difference between sciences and entertainment.
“Scientific issues may not be presented in the good way in movies and people can easily get things wrong. Images are powerful and cinema can even manipulate people. Documentaries tend to be accurate but with cinema we have to be careful.”
And this trend goes beyond Wales as similar initiatives have been created across the English Channel and in Canada, among others.
Hélène Arnal, French blog expert on sciences in cinema, told The Archer: “I think that cinema is a good way of talking about ecological and environmental problems.
“But in the end, a movie is not enough for someone to be aware of the environmental issues. It’s definitively a first step towards this global awareness as many people look for information after a movie.”
Danica Wolkow, Heritage Youth Research Summer Program (HYRS) Provincial Coordinator & Science in the Cinema for Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions, organises similar events in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
She told The Archer: “While the films we choose may cover several sciences, we try to pick films that can be used to illuminate some aspect of a health-related science. For example Jurassic Park could be about Palaeontology but we used it to talk about genetics.
“After the film, they talk more fully about the work that they do and answer questions from the audience. This is a great opportunity for both the researcher and the audience to interact. Researchers get the rare opportunity to explain their work in lay terms, and the audience gets the equally rare opportunity to interface with a scientist and learn something new. We find this format helps to make science research more accessible.”
With the release of documentaries such as “An inconvenient truth” by Michael Moore, a new cinema genre has emerged. Documentaries have merged into grand public cinema and are no longer reserved to science geeks or academics, who can make sense of official documents released by governments and associations.
Science cinema now raises global issues and this for everyone.
Eco-movies have particularly skyrocketed on the kids’ market. Since “Bambi” (1942) that made aware of poaching issues, more and more eco-animated movies have been released.
Eco-movies tackled the animals’ breeding condition in “Chicken Run” (2000), the danger of over-fishing and pollution in the Antarctic with “Happy Feet” (2006 and 2009), the general pollution with “Wall-e” (2008), and the rising of oil tycoons in “The Muppet movie” (2011)recently.
For adults, fictions or movies adapted from real events have covered a wide range of scientific issues. Such as water quality in “Erin Brockovich” (2000), the melting of the ice in “Ice Age” (2002-2012), the saving of animals species with “Gorillas in the mist: the story of Dian Fossey” (1998), and so on.
So if cinema is a good way of making people aware of ecological and environmental issues, further communication is needed to clarify some information.
More information about sciSCREEN Cardiff here: http://www.cardiffsciscreen.co.uk/
And about sciSCREEN’s upcoming events here: http://www.chapter.org/18822.html