‘Science and Art Coming Together is a Key Global Trend’
HSE University held a round table devoted to science documentaries. The participants discussed possible approaches to securing support for movie production and distribution, choosing topics of interest, and encouraging cinemas to show films about science.
The event provided a venue for an unprecedented discussion about the future of science documentary and film. Attracting over a hundred industry experts, the round table featured representatives of the Russian Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the Ministry of Enlightenment, the Skolkovo Foundation, and the RUSNANO Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs. This round table was organized by FANK, a Russia-wide yearlong festival of science documentary and film, in association with a group of film directors and producers and a team of the Future.Doc festival. The event was held in partnership with the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers.
The participants particularly noted the steady growth of public interest in science-related film. Moreover, they said, viewers are willing to go to the cinema to watch documentaries. The last three years along have seen the release of three Russian films about science and wildlife: The Brain: The Other Universe and The Brain: Evolution (both directed by Julia Kiseleva), and Bears of Kamchatka: The Beginning of Life (directed by Irina Zhuravleva and Vladislav Grishin). This April, a new film I Love You, Robot by Julia Kiseleva will be released in Russia, while Lobachevsky Space by Ekaterina Eremenko will be in cinemas in May 2021.
HSE researchers Maria Falikman, Professor and Head of HSE School of Psychology, and Mikhail Lebedev, Scientific Supervisor of HSE Centre for Bioelectic Interfaces, participated in the shooting of I Love You, Robot as well as documentaries about brain activity.
HSE University supports a wide array of efforts to foster public interest in science. For the past 5 years, the University has participated in FANK. As part of the festival in 2018, science documentaries and films were shown in 160 cinemas, while in 2019, 200 cinemas (located at universities and cultural and educational centres in 98 cities and 12 towns) showed films featured by the festival. In 2020, the organizing committee received 300 applications for film releases. Although some venues were not able to show movies in person due to the pandemic, the number of online views exceeded 1,5 million.
The round table organizers put forward a proposal which they think will significantly improve the quality of science film in Russia. The film director and producer Svetlana Rezvushkina suggested introducing special lots for science films at competitions run by the Ministry of Culture. She believes it is important that TV channels, ministries, and businesses raise funds to invest in promising and ambitious projects. This would allow Russia to create high quality television and cinema products with a competitive advantage over foreign movies.
Ekaterina Eremenko pointed out that science film directors should cooperate with the Ministry of Enlightenment. The director also said she would be happy to adapt her films for educational institutions.
Film director Julia Kiseleva believes that science movie advertising and distribution should be supported on par with science film production. ‘We may have sufficient funds to advertise some films, but this is not enough to support the distribution. It is in fact the Ministry of Culture that invests money in the production of the movies which are then simply put on the shelf. We show the films at festivals, but they reach very few viewers.’
Irina Zhuravleva, producer and director of wildlife documentaries, suggested that special attention should be given to this genre of science film. She noted that these films are not being broadcasted on federal television channels, nor do these channels support the production of these movies.
‘The Ministry of Culture is open for proposals and is happy to discuss ways to improve the industry of science documentary and film production,’ said Svetlana Maksimchenko, Head of the Ministry’s Cinematography and Digital Development Department. From 2018 to 2019, the Ministry of Culture supported about 40 popular science films. In 2021, financing will be provided to support two major science factual movies festivals: FANK, which will be held in Moscow and then across all of Russia from October to December, and The World of Knowledge Festival, which is scheduled for this autumn.
Along with traditional places of screening and broadcasting, the Internet is becoming one of the key venues for showing movies. It doesn’t really matter for universities whether students watch a documentary in a cinema or on YouTube, noted Ludmila Mezentseva, Head of the Science Communication and Outreach Unit of HSE University’s Office of Public Relations. ‘No matter where and how the film is shown, we believe that students are one of the most appreciative audiences for documentaries,’ she said, adding that ‘universities are the very think tanks of new scientific knowledge, to which directors turn when searching for new topics and characters for their films.’
According to the organizers, the main idea of the event was to bring together all those who may be interested in promoting and developing science films and documentaries, particularly producers, broadcasters, and public institutions, including the Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the Ministry of Enlightenment, as well as research institutes and hi-tech companies.
‘Science and art coming together has been a key global trend for a decade and a half. For a few years, CPH: DOX, the biggest documentary film festival, has been running a programme about science under the slogan ‘Science is Culture’. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has founded a laboratory for documentaries and experimental movies, MIT Doc Lab, which brings together academic engineers and producers of documentary films. I think we have managed to take the first step in this direction to draw attention to science films and documentaries and show their true potential. We will soon return with specific proposals on how to develop the industry,’ said Irina Belykh, FANK Programme Director.
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