A “collective experience”: watching movies in an online science film club

During the pandemic, online film clubs are likely to have emerged in great number. This one, however, is the only one we know of that is focusing on science. Does the concept work out? The first virtual club event in the Netherlands looks like a success: “It is a great tool to get people together from various areas, across the country, to discuss urgent matters at the interface between science and society”, says Daisy van de Zande, director of the InScience International Science Film Festival Nijmegen (a member festival of EURASF, since recently co-publisher of this newsletter).

On June 2nd, 2021, InScience, in cooperation with the Dutch organization Nemo Kennislink, streamed The Serengeti Rules, directed by Nicolas Brown and first aired in 2018. The film tells the story of a group of scientists, who travelled across the world in the beginning of the 1960s. Studying the wilderness at some of the most remote places on earth, they formulated a set of rules that would govern all ecosystems. In the film, the researchers look back at their work and how it has shaped Western modern ecology.

About 45 people participated, for free, in the film event and in the following live discussion. Panelists were Liesbeth Bakker, since last year Europe’s first Special Professor of Rewilding Ecology at the Dutch Wageningen University, and Darko Lagunas, who describes himself as “socio-environmental researcher and photographer, focussing on the social dimensions of ecological projects”.

“Online you can, to a certain extent, recreate the idea of a group that is having the same collective experience”, van de Zande says. “There’s a feeling of liveliness and urgency, which is really different from accessing a film on YouTube.” And which makes you feel like having a discussion afterwards.

There are challenges, too. The film distributor that holds the rights of the film didn’t ask for a fee, but demanded that the stream could only be accessed from inside the Netherlands, that users created an account to watch it, and that it was protected by DRM technology to prevent unauthorized circulation of the film. InScience was lucky to meet these requirements thanks to the professional streaming platform they’re working with since the pandemic.

The biggest obstacle to experiencing real club atmosphere, however, is another one. As an organizer, would you allow each participant to speak freely to the entire audience, or would you be afraid to relinquish a certain amount of control? Organizers tend to adopt the latter perspective. The solution to the problem is well known, but unsatisfying: The audiences of the panel needed to type their questions and comments in the chat where they were picked up (or not) up by the moderators. Next time the organizers will try to involve the audience directly by handing over the microphone.

Do more online science film clubs exist out there which came up with better solutions? You’re welcome to share your experiences here! In the meantime, the InScience film club will meet again every first Wednesday of the month. The next edition on July 7, 2021 will discuss Most Likely to Succeed which adresses “the growing shortcomings of conventional education methods in today’s innovative world”.

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