By Alexis Gambis
The Rockefeller University, the birthplace of Imagine Science
15 years ago, the Imagine Science Film Festival launched its first full-fledged city-wide edition in New York City hosting film screenings in a wide range of sites, notably New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, New York Academy of Sciences and at the Secret Science Club at Union Hall in Brooklyn. But the festival implanted itself first at The Rockefeller University as a Film Series on campus and ran secretly for the resident scientists after work from 2006 to 2008. Every Monday evening, the early budding science film club surprised its attendees with experiments on screen, docu-fiction shorts, and on-tape confessions by scientists in a series "Portrait of a Scientist".

Inside the blue bubble of the Caspary Auditorium, the initial mission of Imagine Science was to have the resident scientists watch and discuss what is compelling and accurate science in mainstream media and independent cinema. Where does one draw the line between imagining and distorting science? What place does fiction and speculation have in scientific filmmaking? Can or should scientists be actors?

The Rockefeller University, with its contemporary bronze sculptures lining the green areas and expressionist paintings by Fernand Léger and Chuck Close in the Abby Aldrich cafeteria, became the home for not only experimental science but also experimental cinema.
The very first (2008) Imagine Science Film Festival trailer directed by Gerry Kim features scientists at The Rockefeller University and the founding members - Alexis Gambis and Kate Jeffrey - of the Imagine Science Films organization. The story is of a scientist that imagines that he is living inside the microscope and then begins to travels through New York. He then ends up watching himself on screen, reflecting back on his micro/macro Gulliver's Island-ish/Voltaire Micromégas journey.
1st Annual Imagine Science Film Festival Trailer (October 2008)
A scientist explores his journey at different scales around New York City
15 years later, we look back at those days where Rockefeller scientists would crash parties in Weiss Research Cafeteria after a day running PCRs and talk about science cinema. Or, the infamous night in Fall 2008, where young scientists joined forces with student filmmakers in an illegal film shoot on the Graduate Student Residence roof to shoot the first festival trailer.

I also recall fondly a discussion with science journalist Carl Zimmer who came to Rockefeller for the Science Media Lecture Series. I was able to persuade him to judge the first two years of the festival.

Here's an excerpt of an article Zimmer wrote for Nature in 2009.
The Imagine Science Film Festival is not burdened by Hollywood's bottom line, nor is it blessed with Hollywood's bank account. These short films — lasting from a few minutes to just under an hour — have shoestring budgets, yet they exceed what you might find at the multiplex. The best of them go beyond lazy clichés, such as the researcher obsessed with science to fill some inner psychological void or the evil corporation using science to control the planet. They find something original to say, and use the storytelling power of film to say it beautifully."

- Carl Zimmer, Learning to Love Science Films, Nature 2010
Carl Zimmer is now back as our President of the Jury for our 10th Anniversary festival in October. And of course The Rockefeller University will be one of our venues where we will pay special homage to our birthplace.
Imagine Science Films makes an appearance in Times Square.
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