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Paris science film festival is plea for (bio)diversity

Text by Benjamin DODMAN

Latest update : 2010-10-28

The sixth edition of the French capital’s international science film festival served up a tribute to biodiversity in its various forms – and a rallying call for efforts to preserve it.

Penguins are a rare sight in France, where barely more than two dozen couples remain in the remotest corners of Brittany. You certainly wouldn’t expect to find any in Paris, let alone 440 of them, gracing the tasteful billboards of the annual Pariscience international science film festival, which set up camp over the past week at the French capital’s Natural History Museum.

A penguin, a sea horse and a makeshift projector pose in front of the Paris Opera

The poster, by British photographer Marc Jennings, gives ample space to the topic of biodiversity, the leading theme of the festival’s sixth edition. Its quaint evocation of a projector, made of recycled items and bridging the worlds of cinema and science, also captured the spirit of a festival that is both ambitious in its scope and readily accessible in its programming.

The fields encompassed ranged from the social sciences to medical research, astronomy and the environment – with mathematics and artificial intelligence scooping up most of the prizes. They were treated through a diverse set of films, debates and workshops open to all age groups.

Lining up for a film on the mathematicians that dictate the rules of modern-day trading, I was surprised to find myself standing alongside a 12 year-old who was attending his third edition of the festival and confessed to being “fascinated by both maths and the financial crisis”.

Thanks to the festival’s close links with France’s leading scientific institutions, a host of experts from every field were at hand to take questions from spectators, or raise new ones. As a frustrated biology student put it, at times one walked out of the screenings with “more questions than answers”.

A world without difference

The films touched on some of the most pressing issues facing our societies, be it the destruction of our ecosystem, the decline of the honeybee, or the use of stem cells in medical treatments. Most highlighted the threat to biodiversity – or perhaps should we say to diversity tout court – which ran as a common thread throughout the festival.

That threat lay at the heart of several films about the predicament of the planet’s environment and wildlife. It underscored attempts to engineer bees that are more resistant to pesticides and parasites, but weaker in the long run because backed by a narrower genetic pool. It also lurked behind the latest developments in medical research and the neurosciences, paving the way for the emergence of predetermined physical traits and behaviours.

The shift towards a seamless society averse to differences is the theme of Philippe Borrel’s “Un monde sans fous ?” (A world without madmen), which explores current developments in the way mental health problems are treated in Europe.

As governments scramble to slash healthcare costs, long-term medical care is progressively ditched in favour of new techniques to “cure” a select number of patients. Madness gives way to behavioural disorders, while the emphasis is placed on the rehabilitation of patients through methods derived from neuroscience. Those who can be adapted to a homogenised society are treated, while the others are left to fend for themselves.

A daunting prospect, and one the festival will have helped understand – if not avert.

 

Click here for more information on the festival and to view the films' trailers.

 

Date created : 2010-10-13

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