Science lectures featured with films


The idea of science embedded in movies is not new, and when the board of the Mesilla Valley Film Society (MVFS) noticed an available grant pairing science-related movies with real scientists, the board members were intrigued.

Board member Joel Segal took on the writing of the grant and, falling in love with the concept of pairing film and reason, was able to get the funds to bring a series to the Fountain Theatre working with some of the top scientists in the area.

“The concept of the Science on Screen grant pairs movies that have scientific subject with a very knowledgeable speaker to speak to some theme with the movie,” Segal said. “The speaker can take it a lot of places. This year we have a Ph.D. in math, a Ph.D. astronomer and a woman who is an advocate for science education for women.”

In addition to the films and the speakers MVFS, with help from the grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Coolidge Corner Theatre, can also offer free attendance for up to 20 students. Segal said students who wish to get in free can ask for their tickets at the door.

The “Science on Screen” film series takes place one Sunday night per month for each of three months, pairing a film with an expert-led discussions of a scientific topic.  

“We mostly looked for speakers with a strength and then looked for the movies,” Segal said.

The movies include Darren Aronofsky’s first feature film, “Pi,” which will screen alongside a lecture by NMSU mathematics professor David Finston on Jan. 14; “The Martian,” with astronomer William Stein on Sunday, Feb. 11; “CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap” with computer science teacher Melody Hagaman on Sunday, March 10.

"Pi" is a psychological thriller film that challenges viewers with its abstract and cerebral themes. It serves as a precursor to Aronofsky's later works, such as "Requiem for a Dream," "The Fountain" and "Black Swan." It was released in 1998 and marked Aronofsky's feature film directorial debut. The film is known for its unique style, intense atmosphere and thought-provoking narrative.  "Pi" incorporates mathematical and numerical symbolism throughout the narrative, with the number pi (π) itself as a central element. The film also touches on concepts from chaos theory, Kabbalah and mysticism.

Finston, holding a Ph.D. in mathematics and a professor emeritus from NMSU, will speak on Fibonacci numbers, the Golden Ratio and other irrational numbers. Finston has been teaching a liberal arts mathematics course for many years and is nearly done with a textbook for such a course.

The Coolidge/Sloan Foundation nationwide Science on Screen partnership, in a news release, says its mission is “to inspire in theater-goers an increased appreciation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics as compelling enterprises and vital elements of a broad understanding of human culture and current events.” The Mesilla Valley Film Society is one of 12 first-time 2023−24 Science on Screen grantees.

"These events, which pair expert speakers in 40+ states, demonstrate that science can illuminate films, just as films can illuminate science,” Segal said.

Segal joined the MVFS board responding to a call for volunteers at a time the society was struggling to keep the doors open, since then he has been helping with the financial end of the non-profit.

“I think the Fountain Theatre is a treasure and I wouldn’t want to see it go away,” he said.