Final cut for uni’s science film-makers

Master of Science Communications course convener Dr Gianna Savoie says this year’s final film...
Master of Science Communications course convener Dr Gianna Savoie says this year’s final film festival was "bittersweet". Photo: Peter McIntosh
It would make a bittersweet ending to any film.

The science and communications film festival premiered five University of Otago Master of Science Communication students’ efforts at the Rialto Cinema last night.

It is the last time the university will host the event, as the department has been disbanded.

Course convener Gianna Savoie said it was a bittersweet occasion.

The festival has run in conjunction with the New Zealand International Science Festival for more than 15 years.

The course began in 2000.

"It’s really sad to see [the course] go, especially at a time like this.

"Science communication is so very important; we have so much misinformation out there."

While the university would still hold remote online courses, there would be none of the "hands on" practical courses teaching ways of science communication, she said.

"Students used to learn how to make films or podcasts . . . they went from zero to 100 in six months; many of them came into the course without having touched a camera or edited a programme.

"They really learn how to build the craft from the start. It’s not just about relaying information, but also building a story arc with peaks and troughs.

"Sometimes a potentially mundane subject can be really transformative."

Some of the subjects canvassed at this year’s science communication film festival included the cultural importance of water, the ethics of using Artificial Intelligence in wildlife films, the culture of the Moriori people and the virtual marae being developed by the university.

The films are about 15 to 20 minutes long, and took about six months to complete.

"It’s a colossal amount of work to build these films—the actual filming is the shortest part of it; there’s also the editing and sound design and researching and gathering up of the experts and talent.

"These are gorgeous films; they're some of the best I've seen in my career."

A good science film-maker had to be a "good translator", she said.

"You have to be able to find that emotional connection to a subject — it must not only inform but also entertain and inspire.

"You have to boil down the essence of science into a very touching thing."

Dr Savoie said past students had gone on to varied careers in the science and film industries.

"It was a very multi-disciplinary course.

"The jobs they got afterwards could be in every sector; whether it be health sciences, or the Ministry for the Environment, or for the BBC or National Geographic — it’s amazing what they could do with this degree."