Coolidge Corner Theatre's Science on Screen Program

The Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Sloan Foundation have a longstanding partnership to encourage creative programming by art house cinemas. The partners seek to showcase a wide range of feature films and shine a scientific or technological lens onto them. The Science on Screen program will be featured at the upcoming Art House Convergence, which started out as a fledgling organization and has grown since its 2008 inception to host over 500 art house cinemas nationwide in Utah before Sundance.

Initially conceived of and established in 2005 for Coolidge Corner Theatre regional audiences, Science on Screen creatively pairs feature films and documentaries with lively presentations by experts in science and technology. Programmers choose from classic, cult, science fiction, and nonfiction films and pair screenings with introductions from speakers who discuss specific science and/or technology issues raised by each film. Coolidge and the Sloan Foundation began a partnership in 2010 to scale this program to a national level. To date, the Coolidge Theater has received over $1.8 million from the Sloan Foundation to oversee and administer the program to art house cinemas nationwide—awarding 94 grants to 47 independent cinemas across the country. Each cinema agrees to show one Sloan-winning film as part of its season, creating a unique distribution platform for Sloan winners. The program has reached as far as Juneau, Alaska, where the Gold Town Nickelodeon began a Science on Screen program in 2015.

Coolidge’s Science on Screen season of eight films kicked off in September with HAROLD AND MAUDE paired with a psychologist talking about the aging brain. THE CONVERSATION played with an introduction by a cybersecurity expert. Their upcoming program is Orson Welles’s F FOR FAKE with the Head of Science at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, talking about forgery. Often, Coolidge’s theatre reaches its 440-seat capacity. Some of the most successful programs have been psychologist Steven Pinker on PATHS OF GLORY, author Deborah Blum on ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, and Aeronautics & Astronomics professor R. John Hansman on automated flight systems in AIRPLANE!.

With the Art House Convergence upcoming January 18-22, Science & Film spoke on the phone with Coolidge’s director Katherine Tallman about the flourishing program. She said,

“The mission of the non-profit Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation is to entertain, inform, and engage–building community through film culture. We curate films and create special programs to appeal to our audiences, and Science on Screen is a great example. It started with an idea and has grown to a point where events are anticipated and nearly always sold out. Sharing this program with other cinemas and their audiences via support from the Sloan Foundation and seeing similar success is so rewarding. Based on their experiences, and ours, it's clear that an appetite for science information is widespread, especially when delivered in the entertaining format. We are honored to have recently received additional funding from the Sloan Foundation to further expand the program. That expansion includes a soon-to-be-launched Science on Screen website, which will include video recordings of grantee events so they can be further enjoyed by the general public.”

Many of the videos that will soon be available on a dedicated Science on Screen website can be streamed on YouTube. In fall 2015 at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, New York, the Sloan-winning film DIVING BELL AND BUTTERFLY was accompanied by an introduction by Dr. Deborah Benson, a clinical neuropsychologist talking about the true story that inspired the film.