Blind to the obvious – the overlooked importance of film for science communication

»Film« is still among the most impactful media available today. But the efforts of German research organizations to make use of it are indecisive. Shouldn’t film be a core element of the dialogue between science and society?
But no German equivalents of the »Big Bang Theory« or »Westworld« are yet underway. The number of slots for scientific topics on German TV is declining instead of growing. And when was the last time you have been deeply (or at least a bit) impressed by a YouTube channel of a scientific institution?
In the twenty years after the so called PUSH memorandum, in which the most prominent research organizations of Germany obliged themselves to promote the dialogue between science and society to the best of their abilities, not much has happened in the field of film.
Major stakeholders who drew a balance of the memorandum recently (e.g. the German VolkswagenStiftung in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and the chief editor of the best known German popular science magazine on didn’t even mention »film«.
Only Volker Meyer-Guckel, Deputy Secretary-General of the Stifterverband (the Donors’ association for the promotion of humanities and sciences in Germany), referred to video, although to one single example. He extensively discussed the German YouTuber Rezo’s harsh attack on the chancelor’s party, CDU. Rezo’s video was viewed more than 15 million times and, according to Meyer-Guckel, »characterized by a permanent recourse to scientific results and sources«. In Meyer-Guckels recourse to Rezo in turn, there is a certain irony: Via a video, a YouTuber in the field of politics drew enormous attention to scientific facts while the scientific institutions themselves fail to do that in their very own field.
Not even in a consultation process among a few dozens of renowned German representatives of science communication, carried out in 2018/2019 by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, »film« or »video« were prominent keywords. From somebody involved I learned: »We’re not in search« of new film-related approaches. During the consultation »no real need« showed up. But I should not worry: Video »is not missing completely« in the process.
And what about the Silbersalz Festival? The event, newly founded in 2018 in Halle an der Saale in Eastern Germany as an international science film festival, already misses the point. In its second edition it shifted its focus away from film to exhibitions, arts, virtual reality installations and participative programmes.
However, a few weeks ago, the president of the Max Planck Society, Martin Stratmann, somewhat unexpectedly took an interesting stand. At the conference »Media Meets Science« in Munich on 20th May 2019 he made a strong argument for fictional science films. Fiction, he said, can inspire broad audiences beyond the usual target groups for science communication. In times of increasing skepticism towards science this is essential: »If we lose trust of the citizens, we lose freedom of research.« Watch his talk here (in German).

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