Why this unique film festival is worth seeing

How can art be used to help us connect with the world around us and explore scientific issues that threaten our existence?

For some artists, art becomes a science, whether it’s in a formulaic approach to painting or a film director examining life in outer space. For scientists, experiments are used as a creative tool to find solutions to problems and expand horizons.

As humans, it’s in our DNA to be curious, to want to learn more about the world around us, find our own ways of understanding it and then sharing our discoveries and ideas with others – and art and science are two ways that we do just that.

That’s certainly the gist at the Imagine Science Film Festival, an annual event with editions in New York, Paris and Abu Dhabi.

As the festival returns to the capital from 30th January to 2nd February, it brings together science and art to help us question what we know, seek answers to things we don’t and open up a dialogue about everything from what constitutes art to nature’s role in the survival of humans.

“Science is beautiful, and scientific principles and observations have long inspired art,” explains Nate Dorr, Imagine Science Film Festival’s director of programming.

Nate Dorr, director of programming for Imagine Science Film Festival

“Astronomy and biology, for instance, have been a part of art history for centuries. Today, there’s a constant exchange: New research inspires science fiction and scientifically informed narratives in film and writing, and ideas that were once sci-fi speculation cross back over into new research constantly. You could barely have one without the other.

“At the most basic level, science simply is art. Just look at a Scanning Electron Microscopic image of a butterfly wing, laboratory time-lapse of the embryonic development of a salamander, or attempts to render molecular structures accurately – these things all have a spontaneous aesthetic of their own.”

Molecular biology aside, science is something we can all enjoy exploring, but Nate says the key to diluting the heavy subject matter lies in good storytelling: “At the heart of every significant scientific matter is a great story, whether factual or fictional, and many of the best science films find these and use them to translate their subjects for the audience.

“Conversely, film, as an audiovisual medium, is great at condensing information into something striking and memorable. Even pure scientific data, converted into film, may become involving, and capture the viewer so that they will be inspired to learn more about what they’ve just seen. Scientists use visualization of this kind because it’s an extremely efficient way to express data, but it also makes it approachable to others outside of their field.”

Far from being an event just for people in the industry, Imagine Science Film Festival wants everyone to open up their minds to new concepts, or even just experience something new.

Under this year’s theme of ‘Crisis. Entropy. Extinction. SURVIVAL’, the festival will comprise feature films, shorts and documentaries as well as an art exhibition, gallery talks, panel discussions and more.

“We took a hard look ahead at the future, and SURVIVAL really seemed to sum up what we’re facing,” Nate reflects.

“Of course, SURVIVAL implies surviving, so it’s also about solutions and ways that we move beyond this rocky stage of the anthropocene and into something better.

“Homo sapiens are extremely adaptable and good at surviving all manner of challenges. We want to discuss those challenges in depth, not just coast into them the way we’re essentially doing right now.

“One of our three feature films this year, The Experimental City, is all about this kind of Utopian planning for the future, and though it deals with a project in America, it’s extremely encouraging to see how many of its never-realised ideas are actually being tested in the UAE for projects like Masdar City, Expo 2020 and the Smart City initiative right now.”

He continues: “Since our programming is so broad and varied, and mixes so many kinds of films that wouldn’t always be considered strictly scientific, we like to expand upon the material with conversations following or connected to our screenings. These give some context, allow the filmmakers to tell more about their ideas and techniques, and just generally make the experience deeper for the audience.

“The art show is a natural addition – we love to explore the many different approaches to science in art, so why confine ourselves to film alone?”

Imagine Science Film Festival takes place from 30th January to 2nd February at The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island. For a full schedule of films and activities, visit: imaginesciencefilms.org

WORDS Rachael Perrett

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