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Biomedicine in museums

(Medical) science and documentary films, 8-12 November 2006

By February 14, 2006No Comments

Tim Boon, Science Museum, is organizing a session on “Science and documentaries” at the 2006 Film and History League Conference (“The Documentary Tradition”), November 8-12, 2006, Here’s his call for papers:

Filmmakers who identify themselves as documentary makers have, throughout the history of the form, made films that represent scientific themes. This can be seen to have occurred at four levels:

· Where science and society touch most intimately, documentarists have often made films that represent the scientific point of view. Examples include nutrition science, public health, building design and medicine. Here we may consider some of the films of Paul Rotha, including his masterpiece World of Plenty (1943).

· Documentarists have often promoted scientific and technological innovation. Many of the films of the GPO Film Unit promoting telephony are relevant here.

· Documentarists have also often made films to convey scientific information or technical expertise. Many of the films of the Shell Film Unit, including the gearing film Transfer of Power (1939) or the Techniques of Anaesthesia series made by the ICI Unit during World War Two are typical of these.

· Documentarists have often used “scientific” theories of montage, deriving from the Russian school of Kuleshov, Eisenstein, Pudovkin et al.

In virtually all these cases there has been close collaboration between filmmakers and scientists, often to the extent of close advice on scripts, scenarios and structure. Sometimes filmmakers have expressed the view that scientific documentary is a distinct sub-genre; Edgar Anstey, for example, described the nutrition film Enough to Eat? (1936) as ‘a scientific film made by scientists’, even though he directed and produced it. In fact, however, the boundary between scientific documentary and documentary in general is difficult to draw in any absolute sense; rather, definitions are specific to times and places; both scientists and filmmakers make claims about how science should be represented on the screen.

Papers are invited that explore the relations of science and documentary both in the cinema and on television.

Send all inquiries and proposals to:
Dr Tim Boon,
Head of Collections, The Science Museum, London SW7 2DD
t: 020 7942 4207, f: 020 7942 4103

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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