Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Science Communication films make their debut

Wednesday 29 October 2014 1:39pm

2014 student doco collage image
The films: (top row) Gris, A Beetle Abroad, Battling Extinction, Becoming Giants, (bottom row) The Wild Wet, Pest Free?, Me, Myself & iRobi and Genome.

From an examination of the ever-industrious dung beetle to one woman’s quest to understand her genomic make up, this year’s crop of Master of Science Communication student documentaries promises to be both entertaining and informative.

Eight films are set to have their world premiere at Dunedin’s Regent Theatre on Saturday 1 November. Four films begin screening at 4pm with the remaining four screening at 7.30pm after an intermission at 6pm.

Centre for Science Communication Director Professor Lloyd Davis says the screening features some of the best film work produced at the Centre for some time.

“This is our thirteenth group through the course, and the students each year have gained strength as the course gets better and better. Technically, the films are superb; the students have to reach a certain level to be included in the premiere, and so each and every film looks stunning.”

The students have spent the past two years immersed in the art of filmmaking and storytelling at the Centre of Science Communication and are mentored by producers from the Dunedin-based global production house NHNZ.

In addition to the dung beetle and genomics documentaries, the remaining films feature this country’s threatened native bats, a look at the challenging world of an Australian rain forest and the creatures that survive there, an ambergris hunter, robots for the elderly, the growth and health of New Zealand’s coastal kelp forests and a quest for an answer to the question: Can we make New Zealand pest free?

The course’s Director of Filmmaking, Ross Johnston, describes the student filmmakers themselves as an inspirational and eclectic bunch.

“Some have a yearning ambition to become natural history filmmakers, some are activists who have a message to get out, some have a scientific background and they’re concerned science isn’t getting enough coverage. Whatever angle they come from, we are here to teach them how to make their story better.”

He adds that for all involved in the premier event, the screening is a celebration of “what these students have achieved over the two years, and a chance for the public to see just how documentary can relate significant stories through this most powerful medium”.

As in years past, organisers expect the event to sell out.

Event details:

Science Communication Documentaries
Regent Theatre
Saturday, 1 November at 4pm (with intermission at 6pm)
Tickets $10, available at Regent Theatre

The films (in order of screening)


A secret bounty, a public betrayal.
Filmmakers: Jeremy Star and Patrick Roberts
Ambergris is a mysterious substance produced by sperm whales that occasionally washes ashore. Perfume companies pay a lot of money for it but ambergris is notoriously hard to obtain. When an ambergris hunter discovers a unique way to find it on his local beach, he shares the secret with his friends, hoping they can all become rich. But greed divides the group, leading to a betrayal that echoes for a decade.


Fighting for our forgotten mammals.
Filmmaker: Sarah Cull-Luketina
Our two bat species are on the downwards spiral to extinction. Unless something is done soon they will disappear forever. The odds are stacked against them: Predators and extensive habitat damage have meant they are just holding on in tiny pockets around the country. And to complicate things, myths and legends about bats have turned the public against them. But luckily there is a national bat team dedicating their time to saving our only land mammals. If only they could reverse the negative image about bats too, bats might just stand a chance at surviving into the future.


Secrets in Sarah’s Cells
Filmmaker: Rachel Anson
Sarah’s world is full of enriching experiences and diverse relationships that form the building blocks of her identity. Her engaging confidence is a trait expressed in her powerful artworks and leaves no doubt that Sarah knows exactly who she is. But when it comes to her biological identity there are a few questions that can only be answered by exploring the immense world of genetics. Sarah embarks on her genetic journey by ordering a consumer genetics test online. A process that is both more elusive and more revealing than normal because Sarah does not know any of her genetic relatives.


Survival in the planet’s oldest rainforest
Filmmakers: Joshua Mayo and Moritz Katz
In far northeastern Australia lies a land that could not be more different to the arid landscapes that cover most of the continent. Twice the age of the Amazon, it is the planet’s most ancient rainforest. Dark, damp and dangerous – it's a difficult place to survive! A wildlife documentary ranging from how a caterpillar bribes its captors, to a bird who impresses prospective partners with his artistic taste. Delve into this forgotten world, as we explore The Wild Wet.


Seaweed, Scientists and Survival
Filmmaker: Kyle Swann
Along the coasts of New Zealand’s South Island exists the ocean’s largest plant: giant kelp. Vast forests of these giants go unseen by many, but for Matt and Tiff, diving in the kelp is just another day in the office. These two graduate students are trying to become the next generation of marine scientists, and to reach their goal they must discover how this giant seaweed survives. But in their quest to uncover the kelp’s strategies, their own survival will be tested.


A glimpse into a robotic retirement
Filmmaker: Fiona Grundmann
In a small rural New Zealand town, robots have been deployed as part of a world leading experiment run by Auckland University. The iRobi robots have been sent to live with the most unlikely of people – the elderly. Olive Simpson, 95, and Colleen Whitfield, 76, both played host to a robot for three months. The trial aimed to see how robots could live with the elderly and whether the elderly could accept robots in their home. With the ageing of the population, time is running out to find a solution to who will care for future elderly citizen. Are robots really the answer?


New Zealand’s unlikely hero
Filmmakers: Elanor Gale and Samantha Young
“A Beetle Abroad” is a documentary that draws the viewer into a mesmerising macro world. This emotional and quirky story follows a dung beetle’s life. She is called Delilah, and her quest in life is to have a family. But what makes her tale unique is that she is a foreigner in a strange, new land. She and her kind have been introduced to New Zealand in a mission to clean up an excessive manure problem, caused by lots of livestock and no one to clean up after them. That’s where the dung beetles come in. Delilah goes about her daily life, facing some dangerous challenges and meeting different characters. But she also plays an important part in the bigger picture, by cleaning up one of New Zealand’s biggest environmental problems. Poo.


Can New Zealand achieve the impossible?
Filmmaker: Braydon Moloney
New Zealand's unique wildlife is silently disappearing. The culprits: a rogue's gallery of introduced mammals eating their way through our back-country. But in the most remote and inhospitable corner of the country, the Department of Conservation is fighting back. This documentary follows a trio of Fiordland rangers into the fray, but their challenges are never straightforward. Their ambitious – and heartfelt – battle to save our natives provides a lens to examine pest eradication on a landscape level – and ultimately, at a national level.