About 300 delegates descended on Washington, d.c. from October 25 to 28 for the ninth World Congress of Science Producers. The keynote – given by Nathan Myhrvold, co-president of Intellectual Ventures – touched on several issues that were echoed throughout the congress: the tendency to pass over visually challenging subjects, the dangers inherent in over-simplifying complex scientific topics, and the need to get children – especially girls – interested in science. In the session titled ‘Broadcast Wars: Films I Wish I’d Commissioned’, Sarah Ramsden, head of science and education at the u.k.’s Channel 4, announced that history had recently usurped science as the ‘it’ genre and warned that
science producers will have to be particularly innovative in the future. However, sessions such as ‘Pitching: A New Format’ and ‘What’s Hot in American Science’ revealed that the basic formula for a good science program hasn’t changed: simply add a new theory with hard science and a strong human story.
Concern over the impact of September 11 on science budgets ran high. Although no specifics were offered, most commissioning editors present agreed that broadcasters had spent large sums of cash on current affairs programming, which would naturally impact future commissions.
The inaugural World Congress of History Producers (taking place a week earlier in Boston), was also a success. Marked by a standout keynote by historian and bbc host Simon Schama (available at www.history2001.com), the Congress launched directly into an innovative panel dubbed ‘The Ethical Quagmire: Facing the Tough Questions’, which used hypothetical history as the basis for an ethical debate. Although the panel began hesitantly, moderator and Harvard Professor of Law Charles Nesson soon had the participants up and arguing, setting the tone for the rest of the Congress.
The event was notable because it was marked by frank discussion, with both the panelists and the audience tackling genre-based issues – from Alliance Atlantis senior vp Sydney Suissa’s claim that filmmakers, in general, were ‘too serious about history’, to the bbc’s Lawrence Rees’ statement that ‘history is inconvenient.’ That line continued into the ‘Fiction and Facts: History and Storytelling’ discussion on day two, during which panelists stressed historians should look at films as essays, not exhaustive studies. Otherwise, they create an unreasonable burden for themselves.The 2002 World Congresses will take place in Berlin, although dates have yet to be finalized.