A science cinema event generally starts with the introduction of a movie in which STEM ideas play an important role. They may or may not be central to the script, or even accurately represented; the idea is to generate discussion about a particular subject. For example, a movie playing in space can be used to discuss how astronauts do their jobs etc. The screening of the movie is followed by a short talk, in which an expert assesses how realistic the depictions of STEM topics are, while also giving a broader subject background. Afterwards, the audience may ask any questions or even discuss among themselves what issues the movie raised for them, in a relaxed atmosphere with snacks and drink. This event description is modelled on Malta’s “CineXjenza”, which combines the Maltese words for cinema and science.
Several goals can be achieved through a science cinema event. First and foremost, it encourages critical thinking. Movies can use science as a means to an end, twisting established knowledge to suit a narrative. It is crucial to understand when and how this is done, and apply this to other areas of life as well, in a quest to detect and combat pseudo science. Secondly, a science cinema evening can combine entertainment and education, leading to a multi-faceted learning process and making research more accessible as everyone can weigh in on their impressions and receive some feedback from an expert in the area.
The researchers involved can hone their communication skills and apply their subject knowledge beyond their comfort zone: it is not just their research and follow up questions, but rather a wider view of the field, which can help them gain some perspective.
While the organiser needs to select a movie beforehand and pair it with an appropriate speaker, there is only one single event held. If desired, a meeting with the researcher can be organised to introduce the event format while giving tips on how to engage and communicate with the audience.
For the event itself, Science Cinema consists of a movie screening followed by a short talk and a Q&A session led by a moderator. Science Cinema does not have a complex format, refer to Section 4.2 for the detailed structure of a single event.
The event will usually take a full evening (ideally no longer than 3 hours), with a presentation followed by informal conversations over refreshments. Café Scientifique should be repeated monthly for an indefinite time period to allow for exploration of scientific topics and building up larger audiences.
2.1 Staff & Volunteers
There are generally no volunteers required for Science Cinema, as the organiser can introduce the film and moderate the discussion afterwards. It might be useful to have a few people on hand to help with preparations of refreshments etc. but there is no need for volunteer recruitment.
2.2 Venue Hire
Science Cinema should ideally happen indoors, at a regular venue that provides a screen and enough seating for the audience. This makes it less dependent on season and weather, and will help to build a regular audience. However, special events could be held outdoors, which requires the rental of an outdoor screen/projector setup. If such events are hosted near well-frequented areas (make sure you don’t have people walking through the audience all the time though!) it can be good advertising as well and draw people into the event as they wonder what is going on.
Experience with this event in Malta shows that a core audience will establish itself if the timing of the event are regular (e.g. second Tuesday of every month), but make sure to advertise widely enough to reach beyond that. While capacity requirements may scale up once the event becomes established and more popular, an audience size of 21–100 people is realistic.
2.3 Partner Institutions
This event can be run independently and does not need a partner institution. As with other events that involve expert speakers, contacts at your local university will be very helpful, make sure to have a network of contacts established that you can draw on to get the required expertise.
Partnerships and synergies with other events should always be explored. For example, Solar Cinema brings smaller, independent movies on the road with a solar-powered mobile cinema. This could be combined with a discussion of any STEM aspects involved and build on the success of that series.
The budget is based on an estimate of 10 events per year, with just one Science Cinema event per month. This works for Malta’s CineXjenza, which runs monthly outside a summer break. The main costs to consider are movie rights, marketing expenses, and refreshments if desired. CineXjenza may spend roughly 1,000€ per year on those as we are able to use a venue for free.
3.1 Target Audience
Target Audience: Youths (18–25) / Younger Adults (26–45) / Older Adults (46–64) / Pensioners (65+)
A Science Cinema event can have a very broad target audience, depending on the appeal of the movie itself. Make sure to encourage everyone to come along, irrespective of background, and make the event as inclusive as possible. A special kids edition may also be feasible, if movies suited to that audience are chosen.
Consider your target audience before embarking on a marketing campaign: do focus on the content of the movie, but make sure to clarify that a STEM based discussion will happen after the screening. As discussed previously, special events can help attract more people, e.g. passers by at a one off event held outdoors that happen to stumble upon the film screening.
To establish a core audience, encouraging the organising team and the speakers to spread the word can be a good start. Use contacts at any relevant institutions such as the local university to broaden this. If desired (and budget permitting), the marketing could be expanded with an offline and online strategy. For the former, posters could be places around the university or the chosen venue. These should be well designed and in line with the brand your audience will be attracted to.
TAs part of your online strategy, social media pages can help to generate interest, while developing a website for the event will require extra funding and is not critical at first. Emails of the attendees may be collected to encourage return visitors, as a mailing list would be a good way to keep track of the audience and return visitors.
3.3 Dialogic Strategy
While the movie screening itself is not very interactive, every effort should be made to make the surrounding parts as much of a dialogue as possible. Encourage attendees to stay for the discussion and some snacks, and get them involved in your role as moderator. Point out to the expert speakers that they should be as accessible as possible, focusing on what was shown in the movie as a point that everyone can relate to and fall back on. It is crucial that researchers speak about the general ideas behind the STEM topic rather than detail, following the flow of conversation with the audience.
For the moderation, it will be important to have questions prepared and kick start a discussion, this can even be a controversial opinion. Make sure that researchers don’t go into too much detail or that a member of the audience doesn’t take over completely. It is important to keep a short dialogue about different topics, but move on as well to reflect the breadth of ideas coming from the audience.
4.1 Project Timeline
|Months in advance||
|Weeks in advance||
|On the day||
4.2 Single Event Structure
|60 – 180 mins||
|30 – 60 mins||
4.3 Personnel roles
The Science Cinema event requires a screen, projector, and seating for the audience while the movie is played. A copy of the movie is required on top of that, in addition to a space for discussion with eh speaker (eg. some bistro tables for people to stand around).
4.5 Other Logistics
This event should be very straightforward, with no logistics other than the provision of snacks and drinks to consider.
The concept of explaining science and pseudo-science with the help of popular movies gained traction in the 2000s. One of the early projects to implement this idea started in Austria, through the European Commission funded Cinema and Science (CISCI) project.1 The aim of the project was to create a database of movies and relevant scientific facts relating to it, but the website is now defunct.
Harnessing the popularity of movies in science education has been more generally used in the educational context, inspiring projects such as “Biocinema” where a formal essay with a discussion of the movies was used to grade university biology students.2 This has generally been successful, although the choice of movie was seen as critical, as some allow for more discussion than others.2
As with other formats that allow for a discussion at the end, allowing the audience to be on equal terms rather than just being lectured to marks a key shift from top-down science education efforts, and the literature often notes the validity of using such a dialogic approach.33
- Oberhummer, H et al. Cinema and Science (CISCI) – A New Innovative On-Line Educational Environment. Proceedings of the EDEN 2006 Annual Conference, Vienna, Austria, 154–159 (2006).
Cell 126, 227–229 (2006).
- Diez, JEB et al. Biocinema: The experience of using popular movies with students of Biology J Med Mov, 1(2), Online (2005).Crit. Rev. Int. Soc. Polit. Philos. 8, 349–358 (2005).
- Jackson, R., Barbagallo, F. & Haste, H. Strengths of Public Dialogue on Science‐related Issues. Crit. Rev. Int. Soc. Polit. Philos. 8, 349–358 (2005).
Public Underst. Sci. 10, 115–120 (2001).
While Science Cinema is a fairly informal event, and informal feedback can be gathered from the audience, it might be suitable to implement a more formal evaluation strategy.
For this, several quantitative and qualitative approaches may be considered. However, the best tool might be a very short questionnaire that could be filled out by volunteers asking a few questions to capture basic information (age, occupation, gender). Areas of interest for the event organiser might include:
- Enjoyment of particular movie and increased scientific awareness as a result
- Assessment of opportunities for dialogue and interaction
- Feedback on benefits of format as well as suggestions to improve
To gather more information about potential changes in perception of the research being discussed or science more generally, it could also be useful to distribute questionnaires before and after the event. If there is negative feedback on any issues, steps need to be taken to improve the events. This can involve better training of speakers or additional opportunities to ask questions and interact.