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Science Takes Center Stage: NSF-funded Films Win Nominations and Award

June 1997

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated two documentary films produced with support from the NSF for an Academy Award. Special Effects and Cosmic Voyage -- both large-screen IMAX presentations -- were cited in the category "documentary short subject." While neither was chosen, the nominations themselves are a great honor.

"The nominations confirm the importance of NSF support for films, television shows, radio programs and other media that teach science and mathematics outside of the classroom," says Hyman Field, who heads NSF's Science Literacy Section and approves grants to help produce such films.

A third NSF-supported IMAX film, Stormchasers -- produced by MacGillvray Freeman films, a production of Museum Film Network and NOVA/ WGBH Boston -- recently won a Golden Eagle Award from the Council on International Non-theatrical Events (CINE). The Council is a Washington D.C.-based, non-profit organization that identifies U.S. productions suitable for foreign film festivals.

NSF will spend nearly $36 million of its $625 million proposed education budget on informal education in the coming year.

Field says he was impressed by Cosmic Voyage's story line."Cosmic Voyage is about the creation of the universe," he says. "It is about the concept of scale and it is about the concept of time." Cosmic Voyage was produced by Cosmic Voyage, Inc., with sponsorship from Motorola and the National Air and Space Museum as well as NSF.

Special Effects, produced by NOVA/WGBH Boston with 18 science museums and Silicon Graphics, takes viewers behind the scenes to illustrate how filmmakers use fundamental concepts from science and math as well as technology to create realistic illusions on the screen. Stormchasers focuses on meteorologists who study violent weather, including tornadoes and hurricanes.

NSF's informal science section also funds such popular science-related television programs as The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy . Field stresses that IMAX films attract an audience that might otherwise never be exposed to science outside of the classroom, making them an ideal tool for promoting one of NSF's long-range goals: fostering widespread science literacy.

"People will go to an IMAX film who won't turn on a science show on television," Field explained. "They'll go because it's a more exciting medium."

IMAX films frequently are shown at science museums, which often host special exhibits and outreach programs related to the film. Museums also often furnish schools with NSF-developed curriculum materials linked to the films and offer special admissions to school groups to encourage educators to use IMAX as an enhancement to formal instruction.

"The whole idea is not just to show the audience something, but also to get them to go out and do something after they've seen it," Field notes. "What we are trying to do is reach as many people as possible, so that they can not only understand facts about science, but how those facts relate to their daily lives."

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