Nationwide Science on Screen initiative promotes scientific literacy through entertainment, with focus on underserved communities
Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation have named the 2017−18 recipients of their nationwide Science on Screen® grant program, awarding grants totaling $255,000 to 36 independent cinemas, museums, and community groups with film programs.
Each organization will receive up to $8,500 to create and present three or more Science on Screen events, which pair expert-led discussions of scientific topics with screenings of feature and documentary films. Since the launch of the national Science on Screen initiative in 2011, the Coolidge and the Sloan Foundation have awarded 166 grants to 72 nonprofit cinemas across the country.
Science on Screen features classic, cult, science fiction, and nonfiction films provocatively matched with lively presentations by experts who discuss specific scientific, technological, or medical issues raised by each film. Last season, for example, the Salina Art Center of Salina, Kansas, screened Soylent Green and At the Fork as part of a program on global food security and the challenges of maintaining a sustainable food supply in the face of climate change, with a discussion led by Tim Crews, director of research and lead scientist at the Land Institute. Other topics have ranged from what happens inside the brains of freestyle rappers when they rhyme off the cuff (8 Mile) to modern flight automation systems in commercial aircraft (Airplane!) to the science behind the 1919 Boston Molasses Disaster (The Blob). Featured speakers range from local historians to celebrity scientists and filmmakers, including actress Isabella Rossellini, astronaut Mark Kelly, and former NASA Flight Director Gerry Griffin.
The purpose of the program is to inspire in audience members an increased appreciation for STEM topics—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Though STEM-related occupations are becoming an increasingly large (and well-paid) portion of the U.S. labor force, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the United States lags behind many other developed nations in scientific literacy. According to the Nation’s Report Card, released by the U.S. Department of Education, only 22 percent of American high school seniors performed at or above the level of proficiency in a 2015 test of science literacy. And results from the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tested the scientific literacy of 15-year-olds around the world, ranked the U.S. 24th out of 71 countries, behind Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Germany, and many others.
“We are thrilled to support the Coolidge Corner Theatre in extending the popular Science on Screen program to 35 more independent theaters and communities across America,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “From 2017’s acclaimed, Sloan–supported hits such as Hidden Figures and the award-winning Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story to upcoming films such as The Current War, Radium Girls and The Catcher was a Spy, this creative pairing of entertaining films with science and technology experts has enthralled growing and diverse audiences across the country.”
The reach of Science on Screen is growing as the program matures. Last year, more than 19,800 tickets to Science on Screen events were sold, up from 15,000 in 2015−16. In addition to its educational goals, the program is also having immediate, concrete impact on some communities. Last season, the Science on Screen series created by the Gold Town Theater of Juneau, Alaska—in partnership with the Juneau Public Libraries—included a screening of Some Like It Hot, paired with a discussion on gender inclusivity and transgender children. Resulting discussions among staff and teachers prompted the Juneau School District to invite the speaker back to conduct sensitivity training in the district. Events at the Egyptian Theater of Coos Bay, Ore., raised money toward purchasing equipment for a biology class at North Bend High School and the construction of a new Health & Science Technology Building at Southwestern Oregon Community College.
Science on Screen was initially conceived and established in 2005 for Coolidge Corner Theatre audiences in greater Boston, which boasts one of the nation’s largest populations of life and physical scientists. In 2011, the Sloan Foundation partnered with the theatre to take Science on Screen nationwide. To date, the Sloan Foundation has awarded more than $1.8 million to support the program, including the creation of a website (scienceonscreen.org) where information on these programs and archived videos of the speakers’ presentations are available to the public.
“The continuing expansion of Science on Screen is rewarding and exciting, and we are grateful for the Sloan Foundation’s ongoing support of this program,” says Katherine Tallman, Executive Director and CEO of the Coolidge Corner Theatre. “The level of interest demonstrated by attendance, as well as the record number of applicants for new grants, affirms the growing interest in science by the public across the nation. Fostering that interest is a privilege, and the commitment and creativity demonstrated by the grantees is an inspiration.”
Science on Screen grant recipients are chosen based on the need for science-related programming in their community, the strength of their proposed Science on Screen programs, the success of past Science on Screen programs (for returning grantees), their location, and their commitment to reaching diverse and underserved audiences. The 2017−18 Science on Screen grantees include 15 first-time participants: a/perture cinema, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Art Film Foundation, Champaign, Ill.; Cable Car Cinema, Providence, R.I.; Film Scene, Iowa City, Iowa; Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, N.Y.; Gorton Community Center, Lake Forest, Ill.; Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu, Hawaii; Midwest Theater, Scottsbluff, Neb.; Montclair Film, Montclair, N.J.; O Cinema, Miami, Fla.; Old Greenbelt Theatre, Greenbelt, Md.; Philadelphia Film Society, Philadelphia, Pa.; Shotgun Cinema, New Orleans, La.; The Gem Theater, Bethel, Maine; Tull Family Theater, Sewickley, Pa.
The 2017−18 returning grantees are: Amherst Cinema, Amherst, Mass.; Athena Cinema, Athens, Ohio; Austin Film Society, Austin, Texas; Belcourt Theatre, Nashville, Tenn.; Bozeman Film Society, Bozeman, Mont., California Film Institute (CFI), San Rafael, Calif.; Cameo Cinema, St. Helena, Calif.; Colonial Theatre, Phoenixville, Pa.; Egyptian Theatre, Coos Bay, Ore.; Enzian Theater, Maitland, Fla.; Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul, Minneapolis, Minn.; Film Streams, Omaha, Neb.; Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries / Juneau Public Libraries / Gold Town Nickelodeon, Juneau, Alaska; Indiana University Cinema, Bloomington, Ind.; Loft Cinema, Tucson, Ariz.; Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, Vineyard Haven, Mass.; Museum of the Moving Image, New York, N.Y.; Pickford Film Center, Bellingham, Wash.; Real Art Ways, Hartford, Conn.; Salina Art Center, Salina, Kan.; and State Theatre of Modesto, Modesto, Calif.
About the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
The New York based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded in 1934, makes grants in science, technology, and economic performance. Sloan's program in Public Understanding of Science, Technology & Economics, directed by Doron Weber, supports books, radio, film, television, theater and new media to reach a wide, non-specialized audience.
Sloan's Film Program encourages filmmakers to create more realistic and compelling stories about science and technology and to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists and engineers in the popular imagination. Over the past 15 years, Sloan has partnered with some of the top film schools in the country - including AFI, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, NYU, UCLA and USC - and established annual awards in screenwriting and film production, along with an annual best-of-the best Student Grand Jury Prize administered by the Tribeca Film Institute. The Foundation also supports screenplay development programs with the Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, the San Francisco Film Society, the Black List, and Film Independent’s Producing Lab and Fast Track program and has helped develop such film projects as Lydia Pilcher and Ginny Mohler’s upcoming Radium Girls, Ben Lewin’s upcoming The Catcher Was a Spy, Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, Mathew Brown’s The Man Who Knew Infinity, Michael Almereyda’s Experimenter, Rob Meyer’s A Birder’s Guide to Everything, Musa Syeed’s Valley of Saints, and Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess.
The Foundation also has an active theater program and commissions about twenty science plays each year from the Ensemble Studio Theater and Manhattan Theatre Club, as well as supporting select productions across the country and abroad. Recent grants have supported Luck Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes, currently at the National Theatre in London, Leigh Fondakowski’s Spill, Nick Payne’s Incognito, Frank Basloe’s Please Continue, Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Informed Consent, Lucas Hnath’s Isaac’s Eye, and Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51. The Foundation’s book program includes early support for Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, now the highest grossing Oscar nominated film of 2017 that was also awarded the San Francisco Film Society Sloan Science in Cinema Prize in December 2016.
For more information about the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, visit www.sloan.org
About the Coolidge Corner Theatre
The Coolidge Corner Theatre is located in Brookline, Massachusetts and is one of the nation’s most prominent independently operated movie theatres, run by the not-for-profit Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation. A beloved movie house, the Coolidge has been engaging audiences with the best in cinematic entertainment since 1933. In addition to premiere theatrical engagements of independent film and art house releases, the Coolidge presents numerous special programs including: Science on Screen®, high-definition live broadcasts from London’s National Theatre and world renowned opera and ballet companies, Big Screen Classics, midnight screenings, The Sounds of Silents®, and weekend kids’ programs. The Coolidge has won numerous awards and honors for its creative programming. For more information, visit www.coolidge.org.