Sonia Shechet Epstein 14 November 2016

Three Short Takes from Science & Film


The best films synthesize scientific ideas in creative ways. This provides a jumping-off point to look in depth at these ideas. I am executive editor of Museum of the Moving Image’s online publication Sloan Science & Film; we host a library of short films, which integrate topics from molecular biology to the history of aviation. Three of these films–APP, THREE LIGHT BULBS, and THE KING’S PAWN–contend with the way technology is changing human relationships. Technological advancement happens quickly such that we may not have a chance to pose critical questions; films give us a framework within which to think about these advancements. Three examples are: 

Dating apps have become as specialized as targeting people who like the same sports, vote for the same political party, and are Star Trek super-fans. What if these apps were more advanced and could covertly facilitate conversation during a date?

Con Edison is installing more solar panels in New York to help low-income families offset electricity costs. Solar energy will be key to living on Mars (as dramatized in the new National Geographic series). What is the perception of solar power in rural China?

Chess is a turn-taking game. Computer scientists have created chess algorithms which compute all possible moves on a chessboard at each turn. The World Chess Champion–the Norwegian, 25-year-old Magnus Carlsen–won his title by beating the designer of one of the first computer chess databases. What if a vindictive chess champion became a computer scientist in order to design a program to beat his former human opponent?

Our new Science & Film Teacher’s Guide provides the resources to research the topics in the three films described above, and 43 more.  Beyond didactic information sharing, these films interweave technologies into the dramatic premise of the story. Each filmmaker, with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, was paired with a science professor who consulted on the scientific accuracy of the script.

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