Science in film: The ‘evil institute’ takes center stage

September 24, 2012 By Terry Devitt

For filmmakers, science has always set a sumptuous table for story telling. Characters, plots and settings drawn from science are all reliable grist for the celluloid mill.

Photo: Ghostbusters poster

 

On Friday, Sept. 28 at the Wisconsin Science Festival, film and science buffs can feast on a menu of film that plays on the theme of the “evil scientific institute” in the inaugural Hybrid Cinema. Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID) Director David Krakauer and UW Cinematheque Programming Director Jim Healy will take viewers on an hourlong, clip-filled excursion that explores scientific settings and the baggage that science and scientists tote in the quest for new knowledge.

The evil institute theme, explains Krakauer, gives access to much of science’s infrastructure, everything from how research is funded and science policy to the challenges of collaboration and the simple portioning of space in the work environment. “All of these themes come into play in real institutes,” says Krakauer, “so I think it will be tons of fun. It will give people a desire to go back and revisit old films in a new way.”

For example, Healy suggests “Ghostbusters” as a set piece for the cutthroat world of scientific funding as the paranormal researcher-heroes of the movie get the boot from staid academia and are forced to rely on a private funding model. In the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” scientists, much as they are in the real world, are pushed to collaborate and span disciplines to solve the problem of communicating with aliens. The 1972 science fiction classic “Solaris,” set on a space station orbiting a distant, sentient planet, explores the theme of isolation and madness in “institutes that are built way off somewhere where you can do bizarre research.”

Hybrid Cinema, says Krakauer, will be a series, a continuing collaboration between WID and UW Cinematheque. Future themes to be explored include artificial intelligence, space travel, cloning and other real and imagined dimensions of science and science fiction.

The Wisconsin Science Festival edition of Hybrid Cinema will be held at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28 in the DeLuca Forum of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, 330 N. Orchard St. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information on the Wisconsin Science Festival, which runs from Sept. 27-30, click here.