Science Takes Center Stage: Oscar Recognizes NSF-Supported Films
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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has nominated two documentary films produced with support from the National Science Foundation for an Academy Award.
Special Effects and Cosmic Voyage, two films in the large-screen IMAX format, have been nominated for the Oscar in the documentary, short subject, category, the Academy announced this week.
"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," said Hyman Field, who heads NSF's science literacy section and who approves grants to help produce such films.
Stormchasers, a third NSF-supported IMAX film, recently won a Golden Eagle Award from the Council on International Non-theatrical Events (CINE), 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 science and math education in the coming year.
Field was impressed by the story line of Cosmic Voyage, which deals with the subject of size and scale in the universe. The producers, he said hoped to create that rare film which balances skillful entertainment with accurate science.
"Cosmic Voyage is about the creation of the universe," he said. "It is about the concept of scale and it is about the concept of time."
Special Effects 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. But 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 schedule special exhibits 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.
The 39th annual CINE awards will be presented on Friday, Feb. 28 in Washington D.C. The 69th Annual Academy Awards ceremony will be held on Monday, March 24 in Los Angeles.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
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