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Hann Endowed Lecture: Bringing science to life with experimental documentary

Tuesday, July 7, 2015
4:00 AM
Gates Lecture Hall, University of Michigan Biological Station, 9133 Biological Rd., Pellston, MI 49769

Creators of the New York Times' "Animated Life" series will talk about their work as science communicators.

Through a mix of paper craft, digital animation, documentary film and radio journalism, Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck, under the moniker Sweet Fern Productions, work to bring science stories to life. Their beautiful New York Times series "Animated Life" highlights paradigm-shifting scientific discoveries, from seeing microbes for the first time to the origin story of natural selection, all re-enacted with paper puppets. Now, with a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan foundation, Lichtman and Shattuck are translating new scientific research papers into tiny documentary films, using new experimental animation and documentary storytelling.

For their Harry Hahn Endowed Lecture, Lichtman and Shattuck will talk about the forking paths that led to their current work as science communicators, their production process, and the ways in which they use the techniques of documentary film, radio, and animation to capture the imagination and engage audiences with science.

Flora Lichtman has been covering science and the environment for the last decade. Her science reporting -- radio, video and writing -- has appeared on NPR, in The New York Times, Popular Science, The Atlantic and in a number of film festivals. She is host of The Adaptors, a podcast about creative responses to climate change. She is co-author of Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us (Wiley, 2011). Lichtman was formerly the managing editor of video and substitute host for Science Friday, a two-hour live public radio show.

Sharon Shattuck is a filmmaker and animator. Her feature film debut, From This Day Forward, a memoir about growing up with a transgender parent, premiered in 2015 at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and internationally at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto. Her animations are featured in several award-winning documentary films, including the Emmy-nominated The City Dark, which aired on PBS’s POV series in 2012, and The Search For General Tso, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014. Her short video and animation work has appeared on PBS, Slate, ProPublica, Vice, and Radiolab.