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 2019−20 recipients of their nationwide Science on Screen® grant program, awarding grants totaling $229,500 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 237 grants to 86 nonprofit cinemas across the country.
Science on Screen features classic, cult, science fiction, and nonfiction films provocatively matched with presentations by experts who discuss scientific, technological, or medical issues raised by each film. Last season, for example, Rutgers University microbiology professor Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello explored the necrobiome—the many forms of life that thrive on human remains—at the Museum of the Moving Image’s (Astoria, N.Y.) screening of To Dust, introduced by director Shawn Snyder, star Géza Röhrig, and producers Emily Mortimer and Alessandro Nivola. Hawaii’s Honolulu Museum of Art hosted His Excellency Anote Tong, former President of the Republic of Kiribatia, for a moderated discussion about the sea-level rise that is threatening to wash away his Pacific island nation, with a screening of the documentary Anote’s Ark. Other topics ranged from the future of self-driving cars (Christine, Amherst Cinema) to the science of sword-making (A Knight’s Tale, Enzian Theater) to the nature of consciousness (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Loft Cinema). Featured speakers ranged from local teachers to celebrity scientists and filmmakers, including Nobel Prize−winning neuroscientist Michael Rosbash, former Twitter chief media scientist Deb Roy, former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, and astronauts Jeanette Epps and Jeffrey Hoffman.
The purpose of the program is to inspire in audience-members an increased appreciation for STEM topics—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—in and of themselves and as a necessary part of a broader cultural understanding. 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.
“We are very pleased to support the Coolidge Corner Theatre in expanding the popular Science on Screen program to 36 more independent theatres and communities across America,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Sloan Foundation. “From celebrated Sloan-supported hits such as Hidden Figures and original indies such as The Sound of Silence to Sloan Prize-winning films such as The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and The Aeronauts, this creative pairing of entertaining films with science and technology experts shows that science can illuminate films just as films can illuminate science.”
Last year, more than 17,300 tickets to Science on Screen events were “sold.” (Many grantees offer free admission to Science on Screen events.) In addition to its educational goals, the program also has immediate, concrete impact on some communities.
For example, at Shotgun Cinema’s screening of the documentary I Am Another You, Times-Picayune investigative reporters Richard A. Webster and Katherine Sayre detailed data-driven approaches to understanding homelessness in New Orleans. Through connections made at the event, one audience member located a missing friend who had fallen into homelessness. All speakers at the Gold Town Theater’s screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail donated their honoraria to two science-based Alaska youth organizations that encourage children to explore the outdoors.
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 $2.5 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.
“By harnessing the entertainment power of film, Science on Screen offers a user-friendly introduction to complex STEM topics that might otherwise seem intimidating to moviegoers, and sparks inspiration to learn more,” says Katherine Tallman, Executive Director and CEO of the Coolidge Corner Theatre. “We are grateful for the Sloan Foundation’s ongoing support of this program, and we are proud to be part of its continued growth.”
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 geographic location, and their commitment to reaching diverse and underserved audiences.
The 2019−20 Science on Screen grantees include four first-time participants:
- Grenada Community Foundation, Grenada, Miss.
- Ross Ragland Theater, Klamath Falls, Ore.
- Rosendale Theatre Collective, Rosendale, N.Y.
- Wyoming County Cultural Center at the Dietrich Theater, Tunkhannock, Pa.
Grantees returning to Science on Screen in 2019−20 are:
- AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, Silver Spring, Md.
- Amherst Cinema, Amherst, Mass.
- Athena Cinema, Athens, Ohio
- Athens Ciné, Athens, Ga.
- Belcourt Theatre, Nashville, Tenn.
- Byrd Theatre, Richmond, Va.
- California Film Institute, San Rafael, Calif.
- Cameo Cinema, St. Helena, Calif.
- Cinemapolis, Ithaca, N.Y.
- Colonial Theatre, Phoenixville, Pa.
- Enzian Theater, Maitland, Fla.
- Film Streams, Omaha, Neb.
- FilmScene, Iowa City, Iowa
- Gateway Film Center, Columbus, Ohio
- The Gem Theater, Bethel, Maine
- Historic Artcraft Theatre, Franklin, Ind.
- Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, Hawaii
- Indiana University Cinema, Bloomington, Ind.
- Juneau Underground Motion Picture Society, Gold Town Theater, and the Juneau Public Libraries, Juneau, Alaska
- The Loft Cinema, Tucson, Ariz.
- Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, Mich.
- Milwaukee Film, Milwaukee, Wis.
- Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, N.Y.
- Olympia Film Society, Olympia, Wash.
- Real Art Ways, Hartford, Conn.
- Robinson Film Center, Shreveport, La.
- Roxy Theater, Missoula, Mont.
- Salina Art Center, Salina, Kan.
- Shotgun Cinema, New Orleans, La.
- The State Theatre of Modesto, Modesto, Calif.
- The Tull Family Theater, Sewickley, Pa.
- Utah Film Center, Salt Lake City, Utah
About the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
The New York-based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded in 1934, is a non-profit philanthropy that makes grants for original research and education in science, technology, and economic performance. Sloan's program in Public Understanding of Science and Technology, directed by Doron Weber, supports books, radio, film, television, theater and new media to reach a wide, non-specialized audience and to bridge the two cultures of science and the humanities.
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 two decades, Sloan has partnered with some of the top film schools in the country—including AFI, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, NYU, UCLA and USC plus six new film schools this year—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, SFFILM, the Black List, the Athena Film Festival, the North Fork TV Festival, and Film Independent's Producing Lab and Fast Track program and has given early recognition to stand-out films such as First Man, Searching, The Martian, and Hidden Figures. The Sloan pipeline has also helped develop such film projects as Jessica Orek’s One Man Dies a Million Times, Michael Tyburski’s The Sound of Silence, Shawn Snyder's To Dust, Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game, Matthew Brown's The Man Who Knew Infinity, and Michael Almereyda's Experimenter. The Foundation has supported theatrical documentaries such as Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, The Bit Player, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, Particle Fever, and Jacques Perrin's Oceans.
The Foundation has an active theater program and commissions about twenty science plays each year from the Ensemble Studio Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the National Theatre in London, as well as supporting select productions across the country and abroad. Recent grants have supported Charly Evon Simpson’s Behind the Sheet, Bess Wohl’s Continuity, Lucy Kirkwood's Mosquitoes, Chiara Atik's BUMP, Nick Payne's Constellations, 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, the best-selling book that became the highest grossing Oscar-nominated film of 2017 and continues to have a wide-ranging cultural impact.
For more information about the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, visit sloan.org or follow the Foundation on Twitter and Facebook at @SloanPublic.
About the Coolidge Corner Theatre
The nonprofit Coolidge Corner Theatre is a premier American independent cinema renowned for its curated feature film programming and innovative signature educational, cultural, and entertainment programs. A beloved movie house, the Coolidge has been pleasing 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, midnite 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 coolidge.org