Science film earns festival plaudit

7 April 2013

Still from Stem Cell Revolution
Still from Stem Cell Revolution, illustration by Cameron Duguid

CRM scientist Prof Clare Blackburn and filmmaker Dr Amy Hardie  from the Scottish Documentary Institute at the Edinburgh College of Art have been awarded the Tam Dalyell Prize for Excellence in Engaging the Public.

They received the award for their latest collaborative project, a 70-minute documentary ‘Stem Cell Revolutions’. The film tracks the rapid advances made in stem cell research, from its inception after the nuclear attack of Hiroshima in 1945 to its role in society today.

Launched by the renowned politician and former Rector of the University of Edinburgh, the Tam Dalyell Prize acknowledges the work of outstanding science communicators based at the University of Edinburgh.

Prof Charles ffrench-Constant, Director of CRM, commented: “The film that Clare and Amy have made is both a wonderful work of art and a superbly accessible presentation of science. Their recognition by the University with this prestigious award is richly deserved and will be welcomed with gratitude by all those who realize that the need for accurate explanation of stem cells and their applications to the medicine of regeneration is more urgent than ever.”

Noé Mendelle, Director of the Scottish Documentary Institute, added: “Dr Hardie and Prof Blackburn have succeeded in bringing clarity and beauty to difficult, complex processes.” Contributing to the film are world-renowned scientists, including 2012 Nobel Prize-winners Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John Gurdon, as well as Sir Ian Wilmut, famed for cloning Dolly the sheep. Acclaimed novelist Margaret Atwood offers a non-scientific perspective in the film.

Clare Blackburn said: "Amy and I have worked together since 2004 and are deeply committed to bringing cutting edge stem cell science to the public. Winning the University of Edinburgh’s Tam Dalyell Prize for outstanding science communication is a great honour.”

science film audience
During the lecture the Playfair library was turned into a giant Petri dish with the audience making specialised cells from stem cells using growth factors

She continued: “As part of the award ceremony we were asked to give a public lecture showcasing our latest collaborative project, the documentary ‘Stem Cell Revolutions’. We wanted to take the audience behind the scenes and at the same time show them the progress researchers all over the world have made since stem cells were first discovered in the early 1960s. Putting the lecture together as a double act and combining film sections, live animations and interactive audience participation was incredibly challenging, but we both really enjoyed it.”

Clare Blackburn: “The £500 prize money will be invested in our new venture Docspace Scientific, a registered charity that aims to bring complex subject matter into the public domain through creative documentary films.” Stem Cell Revolutions was supported by the Wellcome Trust, and the first 2004-2008 EuroStemCell project - a pan-European public engagement project on stem cells funded by the European Commission and led by Clare Blackburn. The Scottish Documentary Institute also played a vital role involved in the project’s development.