5 years of Sharing Science Documentaries

As a child I *loved* watching The Land Before Time. Over and over again. Every time I was heartbroken as Littlefoot is left alone without his mother. Every time Sharptooth was just as scary. Without a doubt this movie must have helped in some small way to shape who I am today. I still love finding tree-stars in the wilderness. That movie will be a part of me forever. But people remember some weird stuff from their childhoods. As an older millennials who grew up on VHS tapes, we remember the previews and commercials that came before the feature film. And as much as I hold this movie close to my heart, it’s not actually what I remember most about this tape. One of the previews for this movie was a Pizza Hut commercial with a mom dropping off her young son for a birthday party. She’s giving him all sorts of advice for how to behave and she reminds him, “Don’t forget to share. Share, share”. These words somehow got lasered into my brain. Anytime I hear the word share it’s like that clip plays in my brain.

As far as weird snippets of pop culture from my youth forever etched into my brain (alongside the Doug Funny theme song, and the (first two) Ninja Turtles movies) it’s not too bad. Sharing is pretty important. Sharing pretty much underpins everything we do here at Sweet Tea, Science. And sharing is why four years ago I created the best holiday a #SciComm nerd could ask for. That’s right the 5th Anniversary of Share a Science Documentary Day is upon us!  What started as a simple social soiree to sneak science upon some unsuspecting schoolmates and kindred spirits is still…just that. Really why mess with perfection?

Every year around September 17th (SSDD is a forgiving and flexible holiday) I invite the students in my department (and their friends/families/partners) to join me in watching a science documentary. So far we’ve enjoyed (linked to trailers):

1st Year – Cane Toads: The Conquest

2nd Year – Leave it to Beavers

3rd Year – Virunga

4th Year – Into the Inferno (via vote)

All of these movies were found and streamed from Netflix. Every year I have learned something new and shared that excitement with others in my department. It’s helped us to relax and enjoy an evening off together. I try to be an active, involved graduate student in a variety of ways, but I love how simple and enjoyable these evenings are.  I have however learned a few things along the way. If you want to host your own annual event I recommend the following:

    1. Set a yearly calendar event – It’s still the start of the semester so it’s easy to let a full plate of new projects, classes, and teaching take over. I use iCal time blocking to help manage my motivation (for more see Rachel’s post on the topic!) and having that time already blocked off every year is key for spurring me into planning action.
    2. Keep it light – My approach for choosing a film every year is to google “best new science documentaries streaming”. It’s a pretty straight forward process. We’ve had two years of nature documentaries focused on a single species that were huge hits. Last year we chose between two Werner Herzog films. But when I tried to shake it up in the third year with Virunga it wasn’t as much of a hit. While it was super eye-opening it was a bit too much of a heavy message for our group. I think it’s an important film about the intersection of civil war and wildlife but it made me rethink the focus of our movie choices.
    3. Avoid the obvious – Every year when I start to spread the word about this event I get requests for the classics like Planet Earth, Blue Planet, etc but I try to avoid these choices. Don’t get me wrong I adore these series! But it’s also clear that people are already very aware of these big names in science documentaries. Part of what I love about SSDD is finding the slightly more obscure films that maybe aren’t on people’s’ radars and at the top of the Netflix algorithm recommendation lists. Having said that I’m totally on board for convincing students to ALSO have weekly Planet Earth screenings!
    4. Bring snacks – is there any better way to draw in grad students? We have a pretty strong track record of boosting attendance with ice cream at these events. Anecdotal evidence suggests Moose Tracks as a real crowd pleaser.  
    5. Give people plenty of notice and recruit help –  This is a tough one. I try to create an event in our GSA facebook group, send out an email (and a reminder email!), and talk to as many people as possible in person. By this point I also know which students are likely to attend (and have in previous years) and ask them to also spread the good word.
    6. Find a convenient location on campus – I like to make attendance as easy as possible. We have a nice sized conference room in our department that I reserve every year. There’s a computer and projector so I just log into my Netflix account and stream the movie. Bonus pro tip: make sure the screen saver is turned off so you don’t have to get up every few minutes to tap the mouse.
    7. Manage expectations – As much as I’d like a full house every year you’re not going to be able to convince everyone. I do ask if there’s a day that works better for most people. A key consideration is to check if any classes have big assignments due the next day. This year’s event is on a Monday so hopefully that won’t be an issue.  
    8. Be flexible – Timing and schedules and room availability won’t always line up as you’d like. This year the room I usually reserve is already taken. Silly office hours and group meetings.

22528907_10103942343489252_7931795114810547916_oI started this holiday in 2014 and I’ve seen it through over 5 years and that is a highly rewarding statement to be able to make. I love being able to continue my fascination with science while sharing it with my fellow statistics grad students. While The Land Before Time allegedly does not count as a science documentary, heck it gets quite a few things wrong, I do have to give it credit for being able to spark that interest in young children. It’s never too late for that spark to happen and I want to be a part of helping that happen. I hope that more people will be inspired to host their own movie nights to share their passions (science or otherwise) with others.

As a bonus for the STS reading crowd, y’all get first peek at this year’s documentary choice. I usually keep it a secret until screening day, but here in all its glory is the trailer for this year’s movie:




One thought on “5 years of Sharing Science Documentaries

  1. Congrats on 5 years of Share a Science Documentary Day!!! I love this idea and now I feel inspired to check out this year’s pick. 🙂

    P.S. Some what off topic but there is an epi of the podcast Household Name called “Donald and Ivana’s Affair (with Pizza Hut)” that I would highly recommend for those of us who are in that age range where pizza hut vhs commercials are seared into our brain, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

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