Of course: scientists can be trained in filmmaking and storytelling in any dull seminar room on any university campus. But what if you conduct the same workshop amid a crowd of film enthusiasts and give your participants opportunities to discuss their experiences with professional filmmakers?
Samer Angelone, who holds a PhD in Ecology and Genetics as well as in Film Studies and who is a research associate at the University of Zurich, does exactly that: he runs his workshops at film festivals. After the film screenings he and the participants meet the filmmakers and discuss with them their storytelling and filmmaking techniques. “Borrowing communication strategies and techniques from filmmakers and applying them to science communication helps to disseminate scientific results”, Angelone says.
In 2018 and 2019 Angelone held workshops at the Locarno Film Festival, in 2020 he started at the Zurich Film Festival. This year he’ll run workshops at both events. The response has been impressive right from the beginning. He receives up to 80 applications per edition of the annual workshop (which is limited to about 15 participants). Swiss institutions like Life Science Zurich, a joint platform of ETH Zurich and University of Zurich, the University of Basel and even the Swiss Academy of Sciences are happy to support their researchers in attending although they have to add extra organizational efforts – for example running a selection process among applicants – as well as financial support to cover travelling costs.
By analyzing the feedback of participants Angelone found that “communication to a wide audience is the foremost important purpose (of visiting a workshop), but applicants also felt that the workshop could help them communicate with fellow scientists”.
More than half of the participants also declare to have a passion for film and storytelling. One of the participants, who was writing his thesis, even imagined himself “as a scriptwriter who writes his next masterpiece”.
Nobody would deny that an inspiring environment adds to the success of virtually any creative activity. Thanks to Samer Angelone this well-known truth has finally been applied to filmmaking workshops for scientists.
Samer Angelone at the University of Zurich
Global Science Film Festival, founded by Samer Angelone