Emily Fraser August 5 2017

Science and Poetry in the Everyday


Science and storytelling are both manifestations of the human desire to understand the world and our role in it. - Emily Fraser.

Tell us about the connective tissue in your films?

The films featured here may be different in terms of subject matter and approach, but they each explore the emotional aspect of how people cope with challenges that are larger than themselves.  

Whether it's a small organic dairy farmer trying to survive in the shadow of industrial agribusiness; the human species on a crash course with ecological collapse; or my own struggles with insomnia and depression, I’m interested in how individuals deal with situations that are largely out of their control – and I’m always searching for beauty and poetry in the eye of the storm.

Filming ‚ÄčOf Cows and Men on a Bolex camera at Bucher Farms in Healdsburg, CA

Still from Of Cows and Men - early morning at the dairy

Explain how scientific understanding is intimately tied to personal/individual/human stories.

When people think of science I think they often imagine someone in a white lab coat poring over data and researching complex hypotheses with long names, but science is really just a way of understanding how the world works – a way of finding meaning behind things that may seem random or chaotic.  

In many ways, this is exactly what stories do too.  Science and storytelling are both manifestations of the human desire to understand the world and our role in it. 

So as a documentary filmmaker, I see my role - in part – as a bridge between the logical, data-driven world of science and the messy, emotional, intimate experience of being a person on this planet.  We’re all just trying to figure it out, and individual stories can be an amazingly compelling tool to share knowledge and wisdom in that pursuit.

Still from Consider The Ant- Emily walks a labyrinth at Lands End in San Francisco

Ants provide a metaphor for humanity in Consider the Ant

Your films discuss major scientific issues such as overpopulation, environmental concerns or debilitating conditions such as insomnia. And yet there is always hope / positive outlook despite these hardships. Can you tell us more about the sense of optimism in your films?

I can't say I'm optimistic about our ability as humans to undo the havoc we’re wreaking on the earth and our life systems, but that doesn’t mean I think we should give up. There’s enormous value in putting whatever energy we have toward the common good.  But if we’re going to keep trying in the face of difficult odds, we need a sense of humor and a sense of beauty and a sense of poetry to keep us going.  So it’s important to me to prioritize those elements in my films.

And while I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m an optimistic person, I am a hopeful person.  It’s sort of like having a second stomach for dessert.  Even when I’m totally full of pessimism and frustration, I’ve still got this little part of me that’s hungry for something better and that’s ready to take on challenges despite the odds.

Still from Ghost Town, film in progress - horses graze on the site of a former coal mining town in northern New Mexico

Still from Ghost Town , film in progress - a cemetery is all that remains of the once bustling town of Dawson, New Mexico

What compels you to make science films?

On a fundamental level, I’m compelled by a sort of childish fascination with the way the world works and the patterns that exist everywhere I look.  My mind is blown on a daily basis by some amazing new  scientific discovery, and I’m always trying to fit new knowledge into my personal web of understanding. So in a purely selfish way, filmmaking allows me to indulge my curiosity about the world and to try to make sense of my findings. 

On a more conscientious level, I see filmmaking as a tool to connect to people emotionally.  My background is in environmental policy, and at some point I realized that while science is a crucial part of the equation, all the data and statistics in the world won’t have the same impact as a story that makes someone feel something.  So that’s the goal with my films.

Still from Sleepless - Emily attends group therapy for insomnia sufferers

Still from Sleepless - Emily in a waking dream on the beach at Half Moon Bay, CA

What are you working on now?

I am currently in post production on her next documentary about a ghost town in New Mexico and the elderly residents who once lived there.  The coal mining town of Dawson was dismantled in 1950, but its former residents, now in their 80s and 90s, continue to travel from all over the country every two years to reunite and reminisce on the site of their old town.   

About Author

Emily Fraser is a San Francisco Bay Area documentary filmmaker committed to finding the poetry in the every day while provoking change around pressing social and environmental issues. Her work has been shown around the country and the globe, with screenings at Doc NYC, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, LUNAFEST, the International Wildlife Film Festival, and the Pacific Film Archive, among others.

Emily works as a freelance director/producer and cinematographer, and as a part-time film production instructor. In a previous life, she worked as an environmental consultant, focusing on projects in conservation, resource management, and alternative energy. Emily holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental policy and art/architecture from the College of William and Mary and an M.F.A in Documentary Film and Video from Stanford University. www.emilyelizabethfilms.com

Emily Fraser

Featured Films on Labocine

Consider the Ant

A personal search for ethics in the post-modern wilds of an overpopulated planet – where Catholic guilt, environmental destruction, and the fascinating lives of ants collide. Featuring Paul Ehrlich, the world’s leading expert on overpopulation, this kaleidoscopic journey of science and spirituality asks us, as individuals and as a species, “who are we?” and “who do we want to be?” 


A personal journey into the lonely landscape of insomnia. 

Of Cows and Men

Shot on 16mm black & white film, this mini documentary meditates on a northern California dairy farmer’s unrelenting optimism and commitment to his farm and his cows in the face of difficult economic pressures.