This science film festival was screening across Australia in May and June 2019, and will embark on a second round throughout August. And several of the films will be shown elsewhere across the world over the next year or so. The basic aim of SCINEMA is to put science back into cinema, something I would suggest we are deeply in need of. This year five short science films were shown, and also some promos of a few longer films. I briefly review the five short films.
The Face of a Stranger from Canada (Best Film). Directed by Geneviéve Turotte, written by Danny Lemieux (Canada) and produced by Découverte (Radio-Canada).
This film won Best Film, and is the longest of the five ‘short films’ at around 50 minutes. Following a hunting accident in Quebec in which Maurice Desjardins shot away the lower half of his face, a bold surgeon suggested the almost impossible: a face transplant. The film follows the man and his loving wife and their discussions with the surgeon, continuing right through to the long and grueling operation and its aftermath. This is a riveting story but I have to be honest and say that the filming of the operation was at times difficult viewing. There is one truly amazing and partly jaunting scene – fixed in my head for days – where the surgeons cut away the face of the deceased donor and then hold it up mid-air between surgical gloves as they move across to the recipient. It was surreal and perhaps more confronting than any horror-slasher film I have ever seen. Audible gasps went up in the audience; and yet deep down you know this is a work of finite detail and dedication to help the patient. The same donor, by the way, donated other organs that were crucial in saving the lives of two other people, including a young girl. This film was as much a drama as it was science, but it is very affecting indeed. I strongly recommend this film, but make sure you eat at least a few hours before.
Smart Slime? from the United Kingdom (Award for Scientific Merit). Directed by Juliet Martineau.
I love this short 10 minute film. Pure science at its best. A fascinating look at the research into a certain type of bacterial slime, neither animal nor plant, but an expanding maze of singular celled organisms. Yet somehow they function as an interconnected community in a ‘smart’ and time efficient manner, creating patterns of growth that mathematicians are now applying to time- and energy-efficient town planning. Student film maker Juliet Martineau said, ‘the aim was to make a film that creates wonder by showing people how beautiful, strange and impressive those organisms are…The experiments themselves are visually appealing and perfect for film’ (Australia’s Science Channel). She’s right.
Jeremy the Lefty Snail and Other Asymmetrical Animals (Entry) from the United Kingdom. Produced by Dr Robert P Cameron and John Andrew Cameron.
I think this was my own personal favourite in the collection of short films, but they are all good. The film discusses Jeremy, a one in a million snail whose shell twists in a left-oriented pattern. In this entertaining film the scientists discuss research into evolutionary studies about symmetry and asymmetry in plant and animal kingdoms. It turns out that some people, too, have a ‘reverse’ symmetry in which internal organs are in the opposite position to where they normally are (e.g. liver on the left side, heart leaning to the right side). Donny Osmond, for example! And, to make it real fun, the researchers set out to find a mate for Jeremy and embark on a worldwide search for other left-oriented snails. Eventually they find two in France by a farmer who breeds them for restaurants. They are then flown over to the United Kingdom…but the erotic turn of events take an unexpected course. It’s such an entertaining and at times funny film, but the science shines through. The cinema audience loved this film. I’m with them.
A Tiny Spark from Ireland (Entry). Directed and written by Niamh Heery, produced by Caroline Kealy.
This film explores ground-breaking cerebrovascular research into blood clots and stroke by Galway neuroscientist Dr Karen Doyle. I think this is a great social documentary as well as a science film. Like the first film (The Face of a Stranger), it has an element of drama about it, but the science is more pronounced. I think one of the startling and commendable things about this film is that it is so immediate. Research is intertwined with actual cases on a day to day basis. The chief researcher (Dr Doyle) clearly combines her commitment to science with her commitment to the social well-being to her patients. Top marks.
Why This Skateboarding Trick Should Be Impossible from USA (Entry). Directed, written and produced by Dianna Cowarn.
A film about skateboarding? Yes, and jeez it’s good physics. I didn’t think I would find it so fascinating, but it is. Physics Girl (aka Dianna Cowarn), who often publishes short science videos on you tube and other public and free social media, teams up with skateboarding legend Rodney Mullen to explore the physics behind an especially difficult trick. I liked that this short film is so accessible and easy to follow and yet introduces what is often quite difficult science, and just makes it fun. You can’t get better than that.