How Sloan is Bringing Science to the Cinematic Mainstream (Whether You Realize It Or Not)

Here's an idea. What if popular movies can teach the general public basic scientific principles without them actually knowing it? That's the idea behind the Sloan Foundation's Film Program, which is bringing science to the mainstream and is best exemplified by their upcoming 2014 Sloan Film Summit, taking place in Los Angeles.

As loyal readers to IP know, Sloan is concerned about our collective lack of scientific knowledge. And so they're working to educate the public in both obvious and not-so-obvious ways. On the obvious side, they're awarding grants to nonprofit cinemas across the country to help roll out "Science on Screen" events, programs that consist of movies paired with short talks by a scientist or technology experts.

The foundation also partners with independent filmmakers to produce work that addresses timely scientific issues. For example, a recent grant went to the production of Jenny Deller's "Future Weather," which examines the threat of global warming. To date, the program, which was launched in 1997, has awarded $4 million in direct grants to film students across over 500 projects.

And so the foundation is launching its 2014 Sloan Film Summit to bring together 150 screenwriters, directors, producers, and representatives from film schools and organizations. Their goal? To bridge the gap between science and popular culture.

What's more, as the foundation tells it, they're making tremendous progress in ways that may not seem completely evident. "Three of 2014’s major Oscar-winning films — 'Gravity,' 'Her,' and 'Dallas Buyers Club'  — and at least two early 2015 contenders — 'Theory of Everything' and 'The Imitation Game' — exemplify the kind of work long championed by Sloan," said Doron Web, Vice President of the foundation.

In other words, popular mainstream films are addressing key scientific issues, whether we realize it or not. Take "Gravity," for example. The stunning film about two astronauts lost in space doesn't explicitly hit you over the head with any overt scientific message, but upon reflection, you realize that it addresses issues like space travel, astronomy and physics in ways that fire audience imagination.

The summit will include a full day of private panels, workshops and networking sessions with esteemed scientists and industry professionals, as well as screenings and another full-day event titled "Science and The Art of Storytelling," a celebration of Sloan-winning works that will include a Keynote by Sloan-supported playwright and screenwriter Beau Willimon.