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Science in the Cinema

Wednesday 08th, March 2017 / 20:59
By Jonathan Lawrence

Not just for academics, Science in the Cinema brings differing groups together.

If you’ve ever watched a film like District 9 or Alien and worried that you, too, might become victim of similar physical problems such as becoming an undead or having a small creature burst through your chest, have no fear – because it probably won’t happen.

Hence the lack of results on WebMD for “moaning sounds and a craving for roommate.”
Science in the Cinema is an initiative put on by the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine to watch films and actually learn something about science and medicine. We spoke with Dr. Jennifer Hatfield, Associate Dean at Cumming School of Medicine, about the program and she was more than enthused to talk about it and its growing success.

“It’s a super exciting way for the School of Medicine to be connected to our community and we have an opportunity for information about health to be shared in a way that’s really meaningful to people and accessible to people.”

Each film that the University screens each month focuses on a different health issue. Of the seven research institutes at the University, ranging from brain to heart to mental health, one will pick the film for that month. Specialists from that particular field, as well as community groups, come down to talk about the subject matter. Past films include Seven Pounds, which addressed organ transplants, and Philadelphia, which addressed HIV/AIDS.

“We’ve been able to identify films that relate specific health themes, and it’s been incredibly successful,” Hatfield says. “Each iteration of Science in the Cinema seems to attract more people. And there’s a tremendous opportunity there because we bring specialists in the field to the event and they get a chance then to have a Q&A with the audience members. They set up the film, give the context of the film, in terms of whether the scientific research that informs the film, and then people enjoy the movie and then have the opportunity to have a dialogue around what they’ve seen.”

The best part is that you don’t have to be knowledgeable of the subject matter to enjoy the film and the presentation. Hatfield explains that it is geared toward the general public who have a real interest in health topics, but from a lay perspective. She wants the appeal to come from the stories portrayed on-screen, which, when done right, will reach a much wider audience.

“There’s people [that attend] who are definitely not from academia, we have people from every walk of life, there’s a really fascinating demographic. We’ve got a lot of young people represented, a lot of our seniors.”

Although there is a Q&A period with experts in the field, what makes Science in the Cinema interesting is that it’s not your typical biology class. “It’s not dry or boring or academic or filled with jargon. It’s about real lives,” says Hatfield. In January, Science in the Cinema played Finding Alice, a story about a woman who developed Alzheimer’s disease.

“The film portrayed so much to us about the impact on her family, on her, on her job, on her community,” Hatfield explains. “It talked a lot about the services she encountered. The audience really got to dive deep into the personal experience of this really serious disease. I think the personalizing and the dramatization, the storytelling around health themes is what makes Science in the Cinema a success.”

The next screening in March is called “Hip Hop-eration,” a clever amalgam of “hip-hop” and “hip operations,” two of the major themes in the documentary. It’s a true story about a group of senior citizens from New Zealand, some in their nineties, who form a dance troupe and ultimately end up competing in a Las Vegas championship.

“I’m super excited,” says Hatfield. “I love this move from a whole variety of perspectives. It shows a completely different perspective on aging. It’s a combination of uplifting, sad. It talks about a wonderful, entire senior’s community.”

She hopes the documentary can help dispel some of the stereotypical lifestyles we associate with elderly people; sitting at home and watching television.

“This is this funny, vibrant community where the individuals are so unique and they all come together as this dance group… It just challenges every single stereotype of aging, challenges stereotypes of community and people living together, and it also inspires people that if they have some sort of a health challenge that they can overcome it if they have the right spirit and community support. I think people are really going to enjoy it.”

Dr. Steven Boyd, Director of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health and Dr. Kevin Hildebrand, Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery for Alberta Health Services will be attending the screening to answer any and all questions about the topics of hip replacements, knee placements, arthritis and the risk of fractures depicted in the documentary.

Ultimately, Science in the Cinema is a great way to enjoy a film with a lot of interested people, ask important questions, and have something cool to talk about with other audience members.
“We have a growing number of people who see this as a great way to expand their knowledge or talk to people who have a lot of expertise,” Hatfield explains. “You can’t necessarily walk down the street and talk to the best cardiac surgeon in the city, but you can go to Science in the Cinema and there will be a fantastic expert…and you can ask them whatever you want.”

So the next time you’re worried about that rash turning into a full-on zombie outbreak, put things in perspective. Go watch a good film and listen to some professionals for a while, and you’ll probably realise that that blinding glare you’ve been complaining about isn’t you turning into a vampire; you just need to get some sun.

Hip Hop-eration will be shown at the Globe Cinema on March 16 with free admission (and popcorn!). More listings for SITC can be found online.

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