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Palacký University
04-08-2014, 13:47, Age: 9 y.

Academia Film Reveals the Mysteries of the Universe and the Human Brain

By: Martina Šaradínová

Exciting scientific themes filmed in a sophisticated way and appearances of prominent scientists and popular science authors combine for the 49th international festival of science documentary films, Academia Film Olomouc (AFO). The organisers offer voyages for knowledge into the depths of the cosmos and into the mysteries of the human brain.

This year’s AFO features a record number of films submitted to the competition and record numbers of national and international guests. AFO 2013 showed about 300 Czech or foreign documentaries, AFO 2014 has 420 film submissions. Forty films are Czech; foreign ones include uncommon countries such as Chile and Mexico.

Less than one-tenth of the films have a chance to qualify for the competition, despite the fact that prizes are awarded in three categories for the first time in the history. In addition to the national and international competition, also foreign short films under 28 minutes have their own section this year.

“The reasons were practical: we hope to show more short films in the future. Primary and secondary schools often request films that could be used in their classes, so films exceeding 50 minutes are not practical,” explained AFO Director Jakub Korda.

Ongoing fascination with the brain and the cosmos

The non-competitive part of the festival is dominated by astrophysics and the functioning of the human brain and memory.

“It’s been quite difficult to select the documentaries on the theme of the cosmos, because we need topical films, describing the most recent progress in knowledge. It’s demanding in terms of dramaturgy – to find the most suitable film and bring the most appropriate guest,” explained Korda.

One of the programme blocks celebrates the 80th anniversary of the birth of the American astronomer, astrophysicist, and popular science author, Carl Sagan.

“Sagan was one of the promoters of taking a view of the Earth from above. He claimed that this perspective may help humankind to achieve a major shift. Science for him had a strong ethical and spiritual message, and his 1980s series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage inspired a number of other films. We want to show how our knowledge has radically increased, although we still know too little about the universe,” said Korda.

The brain and pets

Another personality instigating the creation of an independent programme block is the famous mathematician, logician, cryptoanalyst, and pioneer of computer science, Alan Turing, who died 60 years ago. “He was a fascinating personality. An ingenious scientist, and at the same time a gay man whose coming out of closet had a tragic aspect, leading to his suicide. We want to present him as one of the most important scientists of the 20th century, who made the modern computer possible,” added Korda.

One of the unexplored areas is the human brain and the way our memory works. Alzheimer’s disease, the disease of the 21st century according to some scientists, will be investigated, too.

The anniversary of World War I and its aftermath on life in Europe will also be commemorated.

In order to lighten things up, one of the themes will deal with love from the perspective of science. “Another block will reflect our ongoing argument, whether dogs or cats are better pets. Scientifically, of course. The BBC has produced several very interesting documentaries, experimenting with new technologies. The filmmakers were able to document what pets do when their owners are away,” described the AFO Director.

Industry Meeting 2

The 49th year also hosts another Industry Meeting for professionals from the television and film industry and science popularisers. The last year’s novelty has taken root, attracting representatives of important TV stations, including the Canadian CBC and Australian ABC, which have their own science departments.

“One part of the meeting will support the stagnating Central European production of science documentaries. Top producers from abroad will advise Czech, Polish, and German young filmmakers how to launch a project and effectively offer it to television,” said Korda, adding that AFO is considered by film producers to be a place where films can be marketed.

Capacity unchanged

The list of places where the individual festival encounters with science will take place has not been changed. Festival screenings will utilise all locations in the centre of Olomouc, including the Metropol Cinema, Convictorium, Upper Square, Music Theatre, and The Regional Museum. “Our capacity cannot be increased anymore. Renting other places would be a burden in terms of costs and organisation; the festival has its limits,” said Korda.

Last year, almost 4,000 visitors came to the festival, and the final opinion poll disproved a few prejudices. It turned out that audience was not made up mostly by students, but the public as well, to a large degree. Also, Philosophical Faculty students do not prevail – all faculties take part.

To improve the status of science

AFO is not only a place where silver screen enthusiasts meet, but is also a heavyweight in Czech science popularisation, as was demonstrated by the success in the SCIAP Competition Show 2013, evaluating the most successful popularisation activities in the Czech Republic. AFO defended its last year’s second place title in one of the categories.

The festival Director does not want to overestimate this achievement. “It’s nice feedback to be appraised in a prestigious competition organised by the Czech Academy of Sciences. However, competition is not that great in such a small country. Our goal is to cooperate with other institutions more effectively in order to make more people interested in science. It is an opportunity to motivate for further study and persuade the public that science matters and is worth being supported from the public budget. This is an investment which pays back,” said Korda.

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Last update: 19. 09. 2012, Vladimír Kubák