The Science Film Festival highlights the need for a vibrant science reporting culture in Malaysia.
Whether it’s computer simulations that aid drug design and personalised healthcare, or fire-fighting drones, or supercomputers that enable optimally designed wind farms, science is shaping the future and communicating its role has never been more important.
In the 200,000 or so years of humans occupying our 4.5-billion-year-old planet, we have spread to almost every continent of the world – altering landscapes, killing off whole species and changing the climate.
Moving forward, scientific literacy can help foster rational thinking about 21st-century problems (just think about the effect of the anti-climate change and anti-vaccination movements), and also empower people to understand the promise of biotechnology, genomics and quantum computing platforms that help solve them.
In this respect, the media is in a special position to inspire and to educate, which is probably what global German cultural centre the Goethe-Institut had in mind when it started the Science Film Festival back in 2005.
Identifying the most inspiring, interesting and informative productions from around the world, it then brings these to a wider audience. Anyone can enter, and many well-known production houses do. The selection committee whittles down this pool (over 280 entries this year) into a smaller selection, and a local jury panel picks relevant films for screening in its home country.
This year, 13 countries are participating. the Malaysian jury panel has selected 29 movies that are being screened from now until Nov 16 at public spaces such as GSC Pavillion, Petrosains The Discovery Centre at Suria KLCC, Forest Research Institute Malaysia, MAP Solaris, as well as 1,000 schools, colleges and universities throughout the country.
The theme is Future Technologies, and among the line-up are productions aimed at various age groups, covering an exciting range of subjects.
Supercomputers, for example, is a visual feast. Produced by a supercomputer visualisation centre team from Spain, it transforms abstract concepts into visually stunning narratives – from how advances in computer processing power have allowed us to simulate life from the micro to macro scale; such as new drug compounds interacting with molecules within the human body and mathematical equations transformed into breathtaking animation of supernovas in space.
Catalyst: Ancient Writing is a seven-minute piece that explores the power of 3D scanning technologies, and how they are allowing us to unlock pieces of history through fresh analyses of ancient artefacts.
The fact that only one out of all the entries was produced locally, however, is a stark reminder that Malaysia has some way to go yet.
That entry was I Got It! Sunbear, a children’s programme that teaches children about the plight of Malaysia’s endangered sun bears. As wonderful as the show is, it doesn't exactly fit in with the festival’s theme of Future Technologies.
Neither is it entirely a home-grown effort, because I Got It! is a regional children’s knowledge TV series co-produced by Asean countries, initiated by the Goethe-Institut as a follow-up effort from previous Science Film Festivals.
In some ways, this makes events like the festival all the more important. A better awareness of scientific developments among both the general population and the media is necessary for the creation of a vibrant science reporting culture.
In countries like Germany, even children’s programmes – for example KIKA: Earth To Future, with its drone technology episode Super Heroes Or Spies? Aerial Robots Of The Future – are covering the latest trends in science. Instead of just showing children how drones could soon be delivering pizza and helping firefighters save lives, it encourages them to think critically, by bringing up the topic of unmanned military air strikes and the ethical implications new technologies can bring.
Recent years have seen the rise of a number of science education initiatives in Malaysia. Among the festival’s partners is the Association of Science, Technology (Asti) which is an association of educators, scientists, industry representatives and individuals.
It will conduct a one-day workshop on Nov 8 (9am-5pm) on Creative And Critical Thinking for 15- to 18-year-olds, conducted by Asti founder Dr Mohamed Yunus Mohamed Yasin, a specialist in environmental policy, sustainable development and education.
Another partner is the Malaysian Nature Society, which works through its School Nature Clubs to teach and build awareness among Malaysian schoolchildren about the environment.
As part of the screenings to take place in 700 Malaysian schools, the festival organisers have also arranged to supply teachers with specially formulated supplementary teaching materials.
An annual pre-festival Exchange and Activities Workshop also comes up with guidelines for activity ideas teachers can use, a full list of which is available on the festival website’s activity page.
An activity for the abovementioned Catalyst: Ancient Writing, for example, includes instructions on how to make a secret ink using lemon juice; Supercomputers has an accompanying game that teaches students about probabilities of correctness in relation to predictions made by computer programs.
Festival dates vary from country to country, but all participating countries’ events conclude by Dec 15, after which awards and cash prizes will be given to winners.
The Malaysian festival highlight will be the screening of Biophilia by Björk at MAP Solaris at 8pm on Nov 14.
For more information about the festival and listings, visit www.sciencefilmfestival.org. To participate in the Asti creative thinking workshop, ask for an event form by e-mailing email@example.com or call 03-7877 8571.