Last night, I had the pleasure of going to the Portland-area showing of the International Documentary Challenge. From March 5th-9th, 142 documentary filmmaking teams from 16 countries made short documentary films on the topics of Hope & Fear. I found out about it because I got solicited to be a co-star in one of them — focused on fear — on the topic of Dark Matter.
Dark matter makes for both fascinating pictures and for a fascinating subject. Well, there was a huge reason why I was a major player in this: this is an obscure topic that most people know very little about. In fact, nearly all of the documentary films screened last night had this in common about their films’ subject matter. Topics included:
- People who craft artificial eyeballs for people who’ve lost an eye,
- The last days at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a major U.S. newspaper that just went out of business after 146 years,
- The groups of people banding together to oppose a new Liquid Natural Gas pipeline in the Northwest US,
- A porn performer challenging the stereotypes about workers in her industry,
- and — my favorite — Wu Tang Gran, a team of 70-year-old women in Beijing who dance hip-hop and whose “street crew” competes with teenage crews.
What’s special about this? All of the subjects of these films — including the ones I didn’t include such as homeless people, at-risk youth, and very small-town communities — are about topics of interest and relevance to many, but without a loud, clear voice of their own. Why is this so interesting to me?
Because science — the Earth, the environment, the origin of life, the origin of matter, the laws of nature — doesn’t speak to us either. We have to go in there, as experts, figure out its secrets, and then get the information out there. This is why, whether you like Nisbet or not, I think the issue of framing science is so important. Because it can be done very well, and it can really increase the knowledge and decision-making abilities of the general population.
Alternatively, it can be sensationalized, inaccurate, oversimplified, or — perhaps worst of all — it can be made to be so uninteresting that it actually has the reverse impact from what it intended.
All-in-all, it’s a tough issue, and a subjective one, too. It’s difficult to be too harsh on anyone who’s out there trying, but it’s also difficult to watch someone you agree with harming your cause. As one of those writing and communicating about science as much as I can, it is my responsibility to make it interesting, relevant and accessible to as many people as possible.
So I’ll keep using my voice to bring as much information out into the light as I can, and I’ll continue to support others who do the same. But I ask you, my dear readers, to use your voices to help speak not only for yourselves, but to do the smart thing, and speak for the causes you believe in that cannot speak for themselves.