‘Avatar,’ science on State screen

03/27/2014 12:00 AM

03/27/2014 10:31 AM

This month’s Science on Screen event at the State Theatre is a special one, part of a national event organized by the group that provided the downtown venue with grant money for the series.

National Science on Screen Night will take place Monday at the State and will feature the film “Avatar” – a unique opportunity itself, since the State had to get special permission from 20th Century Fox to show the Academy Award-recognized film, according to State Theatre General Manager Sue Richardson.

“Where others have not been able to obtain the theatrical rights, we were able to,” she said in an email interview.

Speaking after the film will be Modesto Junior College adjunct professor and anthropologist Andrew Hayes, who will look at “magic, the precursor to medicine, from a social sciences perspective,” Richardson said.

The National Science on Screen event is sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Coolidge Corner, the granting organization and originators of the program. “Of the 20 art houses granted this last cycle, 17 are participating in the national event designed to bring attention to this program,” she said.

The Science on Screen events have been popular with the community. Last month’s offering, “The Blue Butterfly,” attracted about 150 people to the downtown theater.

Richardson expects popularity to grow as organizers begin to more specifically target families. They’re doing that by not only making the film selections more family friendly, but offering them admission-free to children and students.

“We want to start the dialogue about science and its importance and relevance to our everyday lives, and also its importance to the future economy of our region and the employment prospects of our student population,” she said, adding that the series is now part of the State’s Youth Education Program.

It isn’t always easy to pair films with expert speakers, Richardson said, so the State is reversing the process, finding speakers first, then selecting the films.

“In the past, we selected films and had a very hard time finding appropriate speakers, and we’re looking for very high-caliber, passionate people who can communicate that to young audiences,” Richardson said. “Tall order, but I’m confident we can do it.”

“And we have connected to five of the area’s most prominent science educators, who, in addition to our existing committee members (professors and scientists), will help take this program to an all-new level,” Richardson said. “We hope to attract even more renowned speakers and will present more intensive programs that will still be promoted in part through our youth ed partners at SCOE (Stanislaus County Office of Education).”

Doctors Medical Center, which partnered with the State in a past screening, has offered its own grant to the theater to keep the series going. Richardson said the State still will apply for the Sloan grant for the next season, but the DMC money, along with donations from the community, will help ensure Science on Screen continues whether or not that grant comes through.

There’s one more event this season after the “Avatar” screening, “Physics & Fastballs” on April 13, about the science behind baseball. The new Science on Screen season will begin in September or October, Richardson said.

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