Learning about climate change through film

February 8, 2013

Integrating video production with climate change might seem like an unlikely pairing for a college science course.

By combining the two disciplines, students are asked to digest facts and views about climate change and make three independent short films based on their assessment of the topic in a class taught by Rebecca Safran, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

“The goal of the class,” said Safran, “is to explore what I consider the most pressing ecological, environmental, social, and political issue of our time. In most other classes on climate change, students don’t have much opportunity for personal exploration and dialogue. I want to give them that opportunity to sort out their opinions about the issues.”

The films are shared and discussed in class. At the end of the semester, their final videos are shown in a juried film festival open to the public. The three-to-five-minute films range from animation and comedy to commentary and personal experience. The student with the winning video receives a National Science Foundation-funded prize.

This year’s winning video was produced by juniors Anna Ptasznik and Stephanie Hayden who collaborated on a short animated film—Tomorrow Always Comes. Their award is to spend the summer in San Jose, California, making a film showing Pieter Johnson’s research on physical changes in frogs caused by a changing climate. Johnson is assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at CU-Boulder.

Together Ptasznik and Hayden came up with the concept for the film and wrote the storyline. Hayden drew the animation and Ptasznik wrote the music and played the guitar. Their short film follows what happens to a piece of crumpled paper when it’s tossed away, depicting unexpected consequences.

“We wanted to show how negative actions can have positive results,” said Hayden, an advertising and creative writing major, “and that positive actions can have negative consequences, even those based on good intentions. There is not always a clear-cut right or wrong answer in the discussion on climate change.”

“We wanted to keep our message lighthearted,” said Ptasznik, “while showing climate-change science and its implications in a creative way that wasn’t angry or political.”

Grants from the Arts and Sciences Support of Education program funded the high definition video cameras, sound equipment, and state-of-the-art editing software that students train on and use. To convey their message, students utilize the tools of story telling, filmmaking, and art in a variety of media. All views on climate change are welcome, although apathy and no opinion don’t count.

The class is cross-listed under the Technology and Media program and the ecology and evolutionary biology department.

“I want them to feel empowered that they have something to say about climate change—whatever that is,” said Safran. “We try to emphasize that there are things that we can all contribute to the conversation.”

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