A Sundance Panel Report

Over on NPR’s 13.7 blog, Barbara J. King reported on what she took away from the panel at Sundance entitled “The Art of Getting Science Right”. The discussants were Ting Wu, Mike Cahill, myself, and Kerry Bishé moderated everything masterfully. (We also were the Sloan Jury, along with Shane Carruth, who was indisposed.) As you know from my writing here, I’ve long been advocating a lot for more focus on portraying the scientific process and the engagement and joy of science over worrying about getting every science detail right. This came up a lot in our conversation, and we […] Click to continue reading this post

Best Jury Duty Ever!

embrace_of_the_serpent_ceremonyWell, I’m back from the Sundance Film Festival, where (as you’ll recall from previous posts) I was serving on a jury for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation prize for science in feature film. It involved a lot of sitting and watching movies in theaters all over Park City, discussion and deliberation with fellow jurors (and what a wonderful group to hang out with!), and then a public panel discussion about the importance of science in film (and how to do it “right”) and then announcements, questions, photos, more photos, even more photos, press, etc.

As you may know (it is all over the corner of the press that cares about this sort of thing) we awarded the prize to the film “Embrace of the Serpent” (director/writer: Ciro Guerra*), which happens to also be Colombia’s Oscar-nominated entry in the Foreign Language film category. Here was our citation, read out during a reception on Tuesday:

“for its original and provocative portrait of a scientist and a scientific journey into the unknown, and for its unconventional depiction of how different cultures seek to understand nature.”

I recommend seeing the film because there’s excellent […] Click to continue reading this post

Breathe…

Off-The-Wall-michael-jacksons-short-films-10646021-600-436Well, that was a double bill I don’t think my emotional infrastructure should be put through again any time soon. Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation”, about that crucial Nat Turner -led uprising, was a remarkable piece of work, made all the more powerful by the huge and engaged audience of the Eccles Theater that I saw it in. Then I had to duck out (missing the Q+A sadly) in order to get across to the Library theatre in 20 minutes to see Spike Lee’s brilliant new documentary about Michael Jackson’s transition from Motown to the spectacular “Off the Wall” album. A proper music documentary for music lovers, really digging into all the musical details, reminding me of my formative years and beyond, and […] Click to continue reading this post

In Other Science meets Entertainment news…

sundance_logoVariety and other such entertainment news sites are abuzz with the news that Sundance has now announced its list of who’s on the various Juries for prizes at the festival this year. As you may know, the Sloan Foundation gives a prize there for science in feature film, and I’ll be on the Jury this year. It should be fun – watching all those films will be a bonus, but I’m most looking forward to talking with Kerry Bishé and Shane Carruth about science/engineering and film. Kerry plays a computer engineer character on AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire”, and in my view really helps set a new high standard for the level of depth and nuance you can bring to such a character while staying well away from every tedious engineer/scientist character trope that actors usually are expected to bring to […] Click to continue reading this post

Happy Centennial, General Relativity!

general_relativity_centennial_kip_thorne(Click for larger view.) Well, I’ve already mentioned why today is such an important day in the history of human thought – One Hundred years of Certitude was the title of the post I used, in talking about the 100th Anniversary (today) of Einstein completing the final equations of General Relativity – and our celebration of it back last Friday went very well indeed. Today on NPR Adam Frank did an excellent job expanding on things a bit, so have a listen here if you like.

As you might recall me saying, I was keen to note and celebrate not just what GR means for science, but for the broader culture too, and two of the highlights of the day were examples of that. The photo above is of Kip Thorne talking about the science (solid General Relativity coupled with some speculative ideas rooted in General Relativity) of the film Interstellar, which as you know […] Click to continue reading this post

That Serial Film Crime…

After all these years, I still have that little pain inside about what I think is one of the greatest missed opportunities (nay, crimes) in the history of film: that Guillermo del Toro did not get to direct the Hobbit due to all the delays in New Zealand over strikes (if I recall correctly), and so after two years of development he (and all his staff) packed up and moved on with their lives…. leaving Peter Jackson to take over the reins. That pain is right there next to those three jabbing pains inside that still feel a bit raw every time I get a reminder about how the films actually turned out overall. Just seeing a poster can set me off. (There are of course some nice set pieces in them here and there, but memory of them is rapidly erased by the overall wrong tone, silliness, and pandering to the need for pointless action sequences at the expense of common sense.) It’s old news now, but it still really hurts.

And it is nothing to do with the fact that […] Click to continue reading this post

Screen Junkies – The Martian, Science, and Problem-Solving!

screen_junkies_martianAs promised, the Screen Junkies episode we made is out. It is about The Martian! JPL’s Christina Heinlein (a planetary science expert) also took part, and I hope you find it interesting and thought-provoking. Maybe even funny too! As usual, there’s a lot that was said that was inevitably left on the (virtual) cutting-room floor, but a lot of good stuff made the cut. All in all, I’d say that this film (which I enjoyed a lot!) had a refreshing take on science and engineering for a big studio film, on several scores. (Remaining sentences are spoiler-free.) First, rather than hiding the slow machinations involved in problem-solving, it has a lot of it up front! It’s an actual celebration of problem-solving, part of the heart and soul of science and engineering. Second, rather than have the standard nerd stereotype […] Click to continue reading this post

Get ready for some “movie science” chatter…

hal_cvj_christina_bigYes, I’ve been hanging out with my Screen Junkies friends again, and this time I also got to meet JPL’s Christina Heinlein, who you may recall was in the first of the Screen Junkies “Movie Science” episodes last year. While we were both in it, I’d not got to meet her that time since our chats with host Hal Rudnick were recorded at quite different times. This time, however, schedules meant […] Click to continue reading this post

Screen Junkies – Fantastic Science!

screen_junkies_fantastic_fourHere, as promised yesterday, is the fun conversation at Screen Junkies. I don’t need to say much, since much of what I wanted to talk about (extra dimensions, other laws of physics, parallel universes, etc) made it to the (awesomely cut, btw!) episode! Embed of video below.

Enjoy! […] Click to continue reading this post

Upcoming Screen Junkies Episode Alert!

hal_dan_cvj_screen_junkies_augustYes! As you can tell from the photograph, I’ve recorded another episode with the excellent folks at Screen Junkies, and again we’ll be trying to look at some science (or science-related) issues in a movie. That’s presenter Hal Rudnick on the left, and producer/editor/writer Dan Murrell in the middle. The episode will appear tomorrow (Thursday) at around ten am Pacific, and if even a fraction of the fun (and hopefully interesting) stuff we covered makes it to the final cut (we talk for a good amount of time and then it is edited down to something short, because, you know, it’s the internet), I’ll be pleased, since we covered a lot of interesting stuff.

I’m not going to tell you what movie we talk about, but I’ll say this. The idea was that this […] Click to continue reading this post

Ian McKellen on Fresh Air!

Ian McKellen twitter profile imageI had a major treat last night! While making myself an evening meal I turned on the radio to find Ian McKellen (whose voice and delivery I love so very much I can listen to him slowly reading an arbitrarily long list of random numbers) being interviewed by Dave Davies on NPR’s Fresh Air. It was of course delightful, and some of the best radio I’ve enjoyed in a while (and I listen to a ton of good radio every day, between having either NPR or BBC Radio 4 on most of the time) since it was the medium at its simple best – a splendid conversation with an interesting, thoughtful, well-spoken person.

They also played and discussed a number of clips from his work, recent (I’ve been hugely excited to see Mr. Holmes, just released) and less recent (less well known delights such as Gods and Monsters -you should see it if you have not- and popular material like the first Hobbit film), and spoke at length about his private and public life and the intersection between the two, for example how his coming out as gay in 1988 positively affected his acting, and why…. There’s so much in that 35 minutes! […] Click to continue reading this post

Simulated meets Real!

Here’s a freshly minted Oscar winner who played a scientist surrounded by… scientists! I’m with fellow physicists Erik Verlinde, Maria Spiropulu, and David Saltzberg at an event last month. Front centre are of course actors Eddie Redmayne (Best Actor winner 2015 for Theory of Everything) and Felicity Jones (Best Actress – nominee) along with the screenwriter of the film, Anthony McCarten. The British Consul-General Chris O’Connor is on the right. (Photo was courtesy of Getty Images.)

[…] Click to continue reading this post

Pre-Oscar Bash: Hurrah for Science at the Movies?

It is hard to not get caught up each year in the Oscar business if you live in this town and care about film. If you care about film, you’re probably just mostly annoyed about the whole thing because the slate of nominations and eventual winners hardly represents the outcome of careful thought about relative merits and so forth. The trick is to forget being annoyed and either hide from the whole thing or embrace it as a fun silly thing that does not mean too much.

british_film_oscar_bash_smaller_05 This year since there has been a number of high profile films that help raise awareness of and interest in science and scientists, I have definitely not chosen the “hide away” option. Whatever one thinks of how good or bad “The Theory of Everything”, “The Imitation Game” and “Interstellar” might be, I think that is simply silly to ignore the fact that it is a net positive thing that they’ve got millions of people taking about science and science-related things while out on their movie night. That’s a good thing, and as I’ve been saying for the last several months (see e.g. here and here), good enough reason for people interested in science engagement to be at least broadly supportive of the films, because that’ll encourage more to be made, an the more such films are being made, the better the chances are that even better ones get made.

This is all a preface to admitting that I went to one of those fancy pre-Oscar parties last night. It was put on by the British Consul-General in Los Angeles (sort of a followup to the one I went to last month mentioned here) in celebration of the British Film industry and the large number of British Oscar […] Click to continue reading this post

Time to Plan…

Happy New Year! So, it is the second of January. You’ve spent all of the day yesterday recovering from the euphoria (and perhaps revelry) of New Year’s Eve, and so today it is time for the traditional next thing on the new calendar: Planning what you’ll do next New Year’s Eve, of course!

acp_stillBefore doing that however, if you are a research physicist, I’d like to invite you to consider doing something else: Plan your Summer research travel. What I am really trying to do is to make you aware that the end of this month is the deadline for applying to attend the Aspen Center for Physics during some period inside the Summer operating dates Memorial Day (in May) to around Labor Day (September). Now, a lot of people (too many, in my and the opinion of others who care about the ACP) just assume that the place is not for them, for a number of reasons that are really not good ones. So let me address one or two quickly right now.

First, it is not an old boy’s country club. It is for everyone, working in all* fields of physics. Don’t apply and you have zero chance of getting in. Apply and there is […] Click to continue reading this post