On Tuesday the Daily Mail reported that the Discovery Channel will not broadcast the final episode of the popular Frozen Planet series in the U.S. Why? Because the show deals with climate change, an emerging threat to animals living in the subzero regions of our planet. Apparently, Discovery thinks this topic will offend the political sensibilities of some portion of its U.S. audience. How ridiculous. Climate change is a matter for science, not politics (or at least it should be). And even more ridiculous is that Discovery helped pay for the production of the very episode that they now refuse to air.

This got me thinking about the genre of so-called ‘blue-chip’ nature documentaries like Frozen Planet. These docs are built around charismatic megafauna engaged in life or death struggles. And honestly, some of these films are my favorites.  I mean, who can resist the pull of a full-grown male lion chasing down a hyena in a battle to the death? Who can say they don’t like Discovery’s ‘Shark Week’–just a little bit? Continue reading Discovery Channel and unsustainable nature filmmaking

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The winners of this year’s AAAS Kavli science journalism awards were announced today, which included four awards for stand-out science video. And the winners are (drum roll please!)…


“Going Up: Sea Level Rise in San Francisco Bay” KQED QUEST/Climate Watch (San Francisco)

A look at what climate change means for the San Francisco Bay Area. Somehow making climate change local makes it real. An artfully-produced piece with beautiful cinematography and flawless editing. The only place I ‘glazed’ was the section about government agencies that manage coastlines around the Bay Area. This obviously isn’t of much interest to those of us that live elsewhere, but then again, we aren’t the target audience.


“Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers” PBS NOVA Online

Each profile features a fun little peek into the scientist’s personality, a ten-question Q & A, an explanation of their work and an thirty-second ‘elevator speech’. This formula works perfectly for the web because the viewer can choose how much they want to watch.

These profiles in particular clinched the award:

Jean Berko Gleason: Psycholinguist

Andre Fenton: Neurobiologist

 Steffie Tomson: Synesthesia Researcher

IN-DEPTH REPORTING (an umbrella category that covers anything over 20 minutes)

“Death of a Mars Rover” National Geographic Channel

Based on the synopsis in the AAAS press release this sounds like the plot line to the Disney movie WALL-E transposed onto a Mars mission. But that’s about all the info I can find on it. The doc doesn’t turn up in search, it’s not listed in IMBD, nor is it available on Netflix. It might be very good, but I guess those of us without a subscription to National Geographic Channel will never know.

“Japan’s Killer Quake” WGBH/NOVA

I missed this when it aired but remember being amazed when I saw the promos for it running only two weeks after the tsunami hit Japan last spring. The team at NOVA must have put it into high gear to pull this together in such a short time frame.  Fortunately, the entire episode is available on-line (as are all NOVA episodes–go public broadcasting!)

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners and here’s to hoping I’ll see my name somewhere on that list in years to come.

Image via iStockphoto.com

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In the last chapter of his book In the Blink of an Eye (Viking, 2001) film editor Walter Murch explores the possibilities inherent in the digital future of  film editing. He predicts film editors will be able to manipulate moving images in much the same way sound editors manipulate many layers of sound:

Up until now…[motion]picture editors have thought almost exclusively in the horizontal direction. The question to be answered was simply, “What’s next?”…that’s complicated enough–there are a tremendous number of options in the construction of a film. In the future, that number is going to become even more cosmic because film editors will have to start thinking vertically as well, which is to say: “What can I edit within the frame?”

Last week Adobe previewed a new technology called a video mesh that looks an awful lot like Murch’s “vertical” dimension.  It allows the film editor to extract 3D elements from live 2D video and ‘re-shoot’ certain aspects of the scene (e.g. depth of field). It is even possible to reposition characters and objects within the scene once the 3D landscape has been defined.

In the future, video meshes and other technologies like light field photography may completely change the way we think about 2D images and how best to capture them. Will these new possibilities lead to innovative filmmaking or will too many options lead to a kind of self-conscious paralysis? As Walter Murch says, we already have a “tremendous number of options” at our disposal.

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Here is a fun and informative video by scientist-filmmakers Neil Losin and Dan Nappen on the bite of the crested anole–a lizard native to Puerto Rico which has invaded South Florida. Neil is researching how the transplanted anole has adapted to its new environment by measuring its bite force, an indicator of food preference and level of competition with other lizards. The video has a great sound track and engages us with simple motion graphics that help elucidate where the research is taking place and how the Florida anole compares to its island-inhabiting progenitors. You can watch more of Neil and Dan’s videos on the website of their production company Day’s Edge Productions.

(Thanks to Bora Zikovic @BoraZ for the tip.)

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