Science Films Galore!

Sorry that it has taken me so long to get to posting the results of the USC Science Film Competition. It has been super-hectic. In addition to the usual things I have to do, I had to give a talk about science education to the Society of Physics Students – that went well, I heard – read and examine another PhD. thesis (twice in one week), do battle with two fronts of vermin attacks on my house, and prep a whole lot of other things I won’t trouble you with… Also, oddly, the time change seems to have left me in a state of exhaustion each day.

Enough with the excuses. What are the results, you ask? And is it true the winner was controversial?!

usc_science_film_showcase_2014_1Well, first and foremost we had a fantastic time celebrating the work of all the students in the competition. About 75 or so people turned up, making all my frantic buying of things in Trader Joe’s and so forth all worth while, and there were two screening sessions separated by a coffee and snacks break. Since there were twelve films this year (a 50% increase!) there were six per session (I curated things so that the sessions were about the same length), which worked rather well. A lot of the films used quite a bit of their 10 minute allowed duration, and so given that I pause between films to give each team a chance to take a bow, it was in danger of being a long evening, and for that I apologize to everyone, but I do think that the students should get a fair amount of individual recognition for their hard work.

Anyway, to cut a long story to medium, the standard was quite high this year, with several good films at the top that were hard to choose between, but I think the 15 judges (from academia and the film industry, with scientists and filmmakers and scientists-turned-filmmakers on both sides) got it right.

The first prize winning film has resulted in raised eyebrows from some, including the filmmakers themselves who apparently were sure that their film would be overlooked due to its content. I think that the judges got it exactly right. It is a fine example of exactly what I’m looking for in this competition- a film that can bring in an audience, and keep them interested, and have them learn about an important topic while keeping them entertained and thinking at the same time. It is called “Demise of Guys” (1st prize $3000) and it a really fine and funny film about addiction to pornography, although it is a good lesson in addiction in general. It is super-watchable and this is an important topic, so I am pleased that such a film is now out there. (It does have, er, mature themes and language, for those of you who might be concerned about that for your younger viewers, or perhaps at work.) I know that various prudes and narrow-minded (about what a science film is supposed to be) people will want to rain on the parade, but I stand by these guys. They made a very watchable, smart film with strong production values and highlighted an important topic with some accuracy and without the usual shaming tone that turns off many young people too… They ticked all the boxes strongly and won as a result. Demise of Guys is here.

usc_science_film_showcase_2014_2The second place winner ($2000), Terry’s Sound, was also really good, with very clever uses of sound indeed, and again, great production values. And once again you stay to the end quite readily. In third place ($1000) there was Germaphobia, with an amusing opening that grabs your attention and some excellent animation telling a starry about another important topic – germs and our immune system. The audience prize winner ($1000) was on a related topic – Vaccination, and the story was told with great humour, and again really good animation. In fact, Vaccination Voyage: A Truly Viral Video, won the special animation prize ($750) too. The Trojan Spirit award ($750) was won by A Penny for Your Thoughts. They had a really clever idea of using various parts of the USC campus to represent parts of the brain in their story about insomnia. The beautifully shot A Million Miles Away, a short romantic piece, was awarded the special prize for Cinematography ($750).

usc_science_film_showcase_2014_3I’ve put all the films up on the YouTube channel ScienceFilmUSC2014, and so you can see them all there! Go and look! The ones that did not win prizes are worth seeing too – it was a tough year. The range of students participating was again great to see (remember, I require the students to collaborate across the art/science “divide”), and I am particularly pleased that we involved all three main campuses this year with students from the health sciences campus (the Vaccine group) and from Wrigley environmental sciences too (the Aquaponics film Jim’s Food).

Look on the Youtube films for the names and disciplines of the students (if they filled out all that information as I asked them to!). I’ve posted a page with all the student filmmaker names and the film synopses here.

If you’re a USC student, consider entering the competition next year. I wish you could have been at the showcase to hear the students stand up and talk about how much they got out of the event (while the audience prize votes were being counted). It made all the hard work and (sometimes) frustration of organizing the thing all worthwhile, as it fulfilled my dream of what this competition could do in connecting students and urging them to create together (see a story here on that). Have a look at the associated blog for a little of this. Check the USC science film competition site early in the Fall semester for registration details, since you don’t want to miss the deadline.

Thanks again to the Anton B. Burg Foundation for enabling me to do all this with their funding.


(Thanks aef for the photos!)

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