Crunch Time

I’m on the bus on the way to campus, it is pouring with rain, the heat is too high on aboard the bus, and I am late. And a bit tired. I was up until 1:00am crunching numbers. The main stage of the judging for the science film competition ended last night and I went into the system to do the data analysis. I’d designed a spreadsheet on which each of the ten judges give a score for each film in eight different categories which I tried to make roughly orthogonal. I set it up so that they could go to an online form (having viewed the films on a private channel on YouTube) and enter the scores, an action which in turn populates the spreadsheet for me. (Google docs rocks!) They could also enter optional comments about each film that could be useful for any discussion that needs to be had. So what I was doing was slicing the database of scores to see if I could get a ranking of the films to take into a face to face meeting with some of my fellow local judges today. Then I wanted to find ways of laying it all out in a way that was easy to read for everyone and in the end this morning I printed out a giant version of the entire spreadsheet on several sheets of 11×17 and glued them together to make a big colour coded foldout for us all to sit around.

The films? I’m delighted with the turnout as it shows the kind of variety of film I’d hoped would be produced. There are eight films, with films that are illustrated explainers on the one hand (with with animation or live action or sometimes both), through drama and narrative, to reflective overviews of a topic on the other, sometimes venturing into art inspired by science ideas.

(Above is a graphic made by Laurie Moore in Dornsife communications from stills of the films.)

This variety makes for a hard task in coming up with the prize winners, since sometimes two films are just trying to do completely different things, but at the same time are both entries fully in the spirit of the competition… This will make it an interesting meeting! (Maybe one day the competition can be expanded to have different categories? We shall see…)

[…later, after meeting took place…]

Wow. It was quite a meeting. Obviously I am not going to disclose the results (those will be revealed on the night), so stop reading if you are looking for clues as there will be none. This was a the kind of discussion I love, working together to pool our different ideas of what it means to make a successful “science film”, and then trying to decide things based on these different approaches and interpretations. In the end, we found that we converged pretty well, and I’ve now got to go to the bank to print the giant checks that we’ll hand out to the awardees. (Kidding.)

One thing that won’t work out was my original plan for the handing out part. I was hoping to have as a surprise guest a dear friend of mine who works in film and who loves science and its intersection with the broader culture (we’ve spent a lot of time talking about it over many a beer and one or two helpings of single malts). It won’t work out though… He’s not getting back into town in time as he is currently working hard in front of the cameras in Canada on some movie about some dude from another planet who likes to wears a red cape… Also, one of my judging panel is a scientist and filmmaker with a feature film just about to appear, and I thought she’d be a great guest award-hand-over-person, but she will also be out of town on the day, and so can’t make it.

Unfortunate timing for the showcase, but such is life. I’ll keep trying to see if I can locate a surprise special guest at short notice. Email me if you can help.


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