The history of science movies nominated for Oscars is not a very long one. Aside from the technical achievement awards or an occasional nomination for acting merits, the Best Picture category has historically not opened its doors to scientific content, save for notable nominees “A Clockwork Orange,” “District 9,” “Inception” and “Avatar.” A documentary about science has never been nominated for the Best Documentary category, until this year, with How To Survive a Plague, Director David France’s stunning account of the brave activists that brought the AIDS epidemic to the attention of the government and science community in the disease’s darkest early days. “Plague” set history last weekend by becoming the first “Best Documentary” nominee with an almost entirely scientific/biomedical narrative. More importantly, it also established a standard by which future science documentaries should use emotional storytelling to captivate audiences and inspire action. ScriptPhD review and discussion under the “continue reading” cut. Continue reading Oscar-nominated Documentary a Landmark for Science→
Earlier this year, the Susan G. Komen Foundation made headlines around the world after their politically-charged decision to cut funding for breast cancer screening at Planned Parenthood caused outrage and negatively impacted donations. Despite reversing the decision and apologizing, many people in the health care and fund raising community feel that the aftermath of the controversy still dogs the foundation. Indeed, Advertising Age literally referred to it as a PR crisis. If all of this sounds more like spin for a brand rather than a charity working towards the cure of a devastating illness, it’s not far from the truth. Susan G. Komen For the Cure, Avon Walk For Breast Cancer and the Revlon Run/Walk For Women represent a triumvirate hegemony in the “pink ribbon” fundraising domain. Over time, their initial breast cancer awareness movement (and everything the pink ribbon stood for symbolically) has moved from activism to pure consumerism. The new documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. deftly and devastatingly examines the rise of corporate culture in breast cancer fundraising. Who is really profiting from these pink ribbon campaigns, brands or people with the disease? How has the positional messaging of these “pink ribbon” events impacted the women who are actually facing the illness? And finally, has motivation for profit driven the very same companies whose products cause cancer to benefit from the disease? ScriptPhD.com’s Selling Science Smartly advertising series continues with a review of Pink Ribbons, Inc.. Continue reading Selling Science Smartly: ‘Pink Ribbons, Inc.’ and Breast Cancer as a Profit Industry→
Every July, hundreds of thousands of fans descend upon the city of San Diego for a four-day celebration of comics, sci-fi, popular arts fandom and (growingly) previews of mainstream television and film blockbusters. What is this spectacular nexus of nerds? Comic-Con International, of course! From ScriptPhD’s comprehensive past coverage, one can easily glean the diversity of events, guests and panels, with enormous throngs patiently queueing to see their favorites. But who are these fans? Where do they come from? What kinds of passions drive their journeys to Comic-Con from all over the world? And what microcosms are categorized under the general umbrella of fandom? Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Spurlock attempts to answer these questions by crafting the sweet, intimate, honest documentary-as-ethnography Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. Through the archetypes of five 2009 Comic-Con attendees, Spurlock guides us through the history of the Con, its growth (and the subsequent conflicts that this has engendered), and most importantly, the conclusion that underneath all of those Spider-Man and Klingon costumes, geeks really do come in all shapes, colors and sizes. For full ScriptPhD review, click “continue reading.” Continue reading New Comic-Con Documentary Celebrates Fandom and The Rise of the Geek→
About a year ago, a little publicized, unheralded documentary named Mountaintop Removal (which ScriptPhD.com reviewed) attempted to deconstruct the environmentally devastating practice of the same name literally destroying the Appalachian geography of West Virginia’s coal river valley. Honest, yet modestly shot and produced, the small-scale documentary needed a Hollywood touch to resonate on a human level to advance its powerful cause. It got what it needed in The Last Mountain, a celebrated selection of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. This important new documentary succeeds in both relaying the urgency of a destructive coal mining practice that is literally zoning in on one last undamaged mountain as well as forging a human connection with the townspeople battling to save it. Full ScriptPhD.com review under the “continue reading” cut. Continue reading REVIEW: The Last Mountain→
Fewer topics in contemporary science and technology policy have generated as much controversy or vociferous debate as global warming (more recently branded as climate change) and more importantly, how to mitigate its effects. Recent international treaties such as The Kyoto Protocol and conferences such as last December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen have largely paid lip service towards actionable change and technology aimed at eradicating the precursors and causes of global warming. In the middle of this stalemate is an increasingly hostile rhetoric that has bifurcated into two divergent, unyielding camps—either you believe climate change and greenhouse emissions are a fraud, period, or you believe the problem is so imminently dire that surely, the end of the world is nigh. This dichotomy was no more apparent than during last year’s ”Climategate” controversy, in which hacked emails leaked from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit in England were interpreted, depending on which report you read, as scientific fraud and tampering or reinforcement for climate science. Perhaps it is time, as the eponymous title of our latest Editor’s Choice suggests, for us all to Cool It. An environmental film about 21st Century problems, and the modern solutions they necessitate, Cool It presents an unapologetic, practical approach towards global warming and the problems that eclipse it. It’s time we all listened. ScriptPhD.com continues our ongoing “It’s Not Easy Being Green” series with a review of this thought-provoking, conversation-starting film. After seeing a recent screening in Los Angeles, we are proud to give Cool It our blog’s rare highest honor—Editor’s Choice. Join the conversation now under the “continue reading” cut. Continue reading EDITOR’S CHOICE: It’s Not Easy Being Green: Cool It!→
Back in March, we reviewed the stirring documentary Tapped, which chronicles the harmful environmental and health impact of our bottled water addiction. Since our World Water Day 2010 coverage, the filmmakers have embarked on an ambitious “Get Off The Bottle” 30 city, 30 day bus tour, set to conclude on April 22, Earth Day. Tapped director and producer Stephanie Soechtig took time out from the tour to talk to ScriptPhD.com about the tour, their efforts to educate people about bottled water, how the film’s release has impacted her, her wishes for changes in the advertising and marketing of bottled water, and things we can all do to make that happen. Day 2 of our Earth Week coverage continues on the theme of how valuable water is to our environment. For our interview with Stephanie, please click “continue reading.”
Happy Earth Week 2010, everyone! Here at ScriptPhD.com, we have devoted a number of articles to environment, sustainability and eco-awareness as part
of our continuing “It’s Not Easy Being Green” series. This year, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, we are devoting the entire week to articles, interviews and profiles of companies, individuals and content that raises awareness of sustainability efforts and new ideas for the green science revolution. Because water lies at the heart of most modern environmental crises, we kick off Earth Week with CaptainPlanet’s review of the stellar new DisneyNature documentary Oceans, a truly spectacular oeuvre that celebrates the majesty of our most important and delicate resource. We also include a number of practical, easy things you can do right now to make a difference globally by acting locally. For our Oceans review and to find out what you can do to help protect our Earth’s water supply, please click
A compelling, socially and scientifically significant new film is buzzing its way into the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival. From director Jeremy Simmons, The Last Beekeeper is a stirring new documentary that explores the ramifications of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the mysterious HIV-like pandemic killing bees en masse, on beekeepers, the pollination industry, and our ecosystem. The filmmakers follow the lives of three beekeepers over the course of a year, as they prepare and transport their bees to California’s massive annual almond pollination, an event that requires the assembly of nearly all American bees. In depicting their struggles, triumphs, and personal pain, the film delves into the scientific mystery behind CCD, the personal relationship that bonds an apiarist to their bees, and the lengths of devotion three human beings take to save themselves and an insect in crisis.
Nicole Ulibarri might have had a very different calling in life. Described by her family as smart and ambitious, Nicole got a college education and became a Seattle career woman. But she also comes from several generations of beekeepers, and the calling, along with anguish over a painful family loss, led her heart back to Montana, where she became a beekeeper. Eric Mills is probably the most interesting Southern-to-the-core gay beekeeper you’ll ever meet. Meticulous, obsessed, at times arrogant, and profoundly gifted at his profession, Eric sums up his philosophy: “If you take care of the bees, they will take care of you.” Matt Hutchins is the archetype of many blue-collar, self-made small business owners in America. His struggling rural Washington business has been decimated by dying bees, but Matt’s perseverance, sense of obligation, and love of his craft drives his desire to keep going. In 1996, the almond industry got a huge boost when California led research efforts on the health effects of almonds, leading to a doubling of almond consumption worldwide. California is the industry leader in almond production, growing 80% of the world’s supply. The caveat is that almonds are almost completely reliant on bee populations for pollination. As such, the yearly California crop acts as a sort of beekeeper’s “Yukon gold rush”. 75% of all American beekeepers head out to California yearly to pollinate almonds, and rely on this event to earn most of their income (approximately $150 for a full hive). Among them are Nicole, Eric and Matt. Would their hives survive the stressful voyage to California? Could they beat the unbelievable odds against them to make a year’s worth of work pay off?
What is Colony Collapse Disorder? Beginning in October 2006, some beekeepers began reporting losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. In 2007, 20 billion bees disappeared. This phenomenon, for which scientists have not been able to elucidate a cause, has been termed “Colony Collapse Disorder”. The main symptom of CCD is simply no or a low number of adult honey bees present but with a live queen and no dead honey bees in the hive. In a 2007 report prepared for Congress by the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council’s (NRC) “Status of Pollinators Committee”, several factors were isolated as contributing to CCD, including invasive parasitic varroa mites, introduction of Africanized honeybees to replace dying European colonies, resistance to antibiotics treating American foulbrood, the major bacterial disease affecting honey bees, poor nutrition, the small hive beetle, the use of insecticides in crop protection and the stress inflicted on dwindling US hives in almond pollination. In response to this crisis, the Agricultural Research Service arm of the US Department of Agriculture has released an action plan to mitigate honeybee losses from CCD. Heavily featured in The Last Beekeeper, Professor Dennis vanEngelsdorp and his group at the University of Pennsylvania are attempting to figure out the exact reasons bees are dying in droves. After conducting autopsies on thousands of dead bees, the sick bees were found to be bigger, darker, with alarming multi-disease abnormalities, indicating a systemic immunity collapse akin to HIV infection. Incidentally, for one of the best explanations of CCD and celebrations of beekeepers, check out this video TED Talk entitled “Where Have All The Bees Gone?” presented by Professor vanEngelsdorp, in which he delves into the gentle, misunderstood creature’s important place in nature and the mystery behind its alarming disappearance:
Beekeeping is an essential component of modern agriculture, providing pollination services for over 90 commercial crops grown in the United States. The honey bee adds $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year, and the demand for honey bees is growing. The California almond crop alone uses 1.3 million colonies of bees for pollination, approximately one half of all honey bees in the United States.
Several important running themes are explored throughout this movie, with disappearing bees as the background context. Loss and devotion at all costs. Through all three stories told runs a profound sense of loss (whether Nicole’s personal tragedy or Matt’s hive devastation) and the cost of being a modern beekeeper. Matt’s decisions cause tremendous strife within his family, while Eric, whose partner quit his job to assist him with the business, sees himself as fungible compared to the bees. Bees as humanlike creatures. Through some very adroit camera work, Simmons is able to provide a rare emotional purview into the world of bees helping one another, working together, dying together. Above all else is the love of the bees. The beekeepers portrayed in this film make tremendous sacrifices, professionally and personally, but are motivated and driven because of a core love for the bees. At times gut wrenching, The Last Beekeeper effectively communicates the frustration and helplessness these caretakers feel.
If the current situation does not improve, the future for beekeepers looks pretty grim. As it stands, there are less than 1,600 beekeepers in all of the United States. (In 1950, there were 500,000.) At the rate they are dying, bees will cease to exist in North America by 2035. It is up to scientists, environmental activists, and ordinary citizens to take action, get informed, and prevent these assiduous, necessary, beautiful creatures from disappearing from our planet. At the end of the movie, sitting in his nearly devastated, ghostly apiary, beekeeper Jim Robertson sadly muses how much honeybees serve by nature. They make enough honey for themselves and everyone else, but we are constantly trying to get more out of them than they can give us. “It’s foolishness,” he remarks quietly. Foolishness, indeed.
The Last Beekeeper is a World of Wonder film, directed by Jeremy Simmons and produced by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. It premiered at the SXSW Film Festival on March 14th, 2009. It is an official selection of the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival, and has two screenings: Saturday, June 20, at 2:30PM at the Regent Theater (already passed), and on Thursday, June 25, at 4:45PM at the Landmark 4.
ScriptPhD.com had the opportunity to talk with Jeremy Simmons and Fenton Bailey and get their in-depth thoughts on the film and the beekeepers. For a transcript of our interview, please click “continue reading”. Continue reading MOVIE REVIEW: The Last Beekeeper→