Flock of Dodos (2006)
“Flock of Dodos” is a documentary feature film written and directed by Randy Olson that the National Review called, “an important accomplishment,” and Smithsonian Magazine picked for their list of, “Ten Science Movies We Loved From The 2000’s.” The movie premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, aired on Showtime for two years, is distributed on DVD by New Video (home video) and Documentary Educational Resources (educational video), and can be viewed on Netflix. For Darwin Day (February 12) in 2007 it was screened at over 100 museums and universities.
The movie captured the tension in the summer of 2005 when the Kansas School Board was taken over by a major of members supporting the teaching of “intelligent design” alongside the teaching of evolution in science classes. Interviews from both sides of the controversy are combined with a poker game among evolutionists as well as commentary from Randy Olson’s mother, Muffy Moose in a film that poses the question of, “Who are the dodos?” and let’s the viewer decide.
Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy (2008)
“Sizzle” is a hybrid of three genres — mockumentary, documentary and reality. It was written by Randy Olson and Ifeanyi Njoku, and directed by Randy Olson. The movie premiered at the Outfest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival followed by over 50 public screenings at other film festivals, universities or museums. While initially met with a wave of disapproval by many in the science community (and comments like, “There’s no place for comedy with such a serious issue”) it received solid praise in the film community — Variety called it, “An exceedingly clever vehicle for making science engaging,” Cinemasource called it, “Brilliant filmmaking,” and the Arizona Daily Star says it’s, “Laugh out loud” funny.
As a mockumentary, the movie is about a scientist-turned-filmmaker (Randy Olson) trying to make a documentary about global warming that features his beloved scientists, but the only sources of funding he can find are two flaky Hollywood producers who want the host of the film to be someone like Tom Cruise (not a scientist, but a Scientologist and, “most people don’t know the difference”). Randy is given a crew that includes a cameraman who is a global warming skeptic and interrupts the interviews to argue with the experts. The movie was criticized in part for allowing a number of climate skeptics to speak on camera. But after the November, 2009 attack on climate science (dubbed “Climategate”) the film, while still being solidly pro-science, turns out to be one of the only places where you can hear the voices of both sides of the climate controversy, thus making for a popular evening of viewing and post-screening discussion.
ADAPTATION AS A PLAY: The New Suit Theater Company in Chicago recently announced they are adapting “Sizzle” as a play to open in February, 2011 and run through Earth Day.
In the beginning … there were only short films. Randy Olson cut his filmmaking teeth on short films while still a professor of marine biology at University of New Hampshire. These includes such non-classics as “Lobstahs” (reviewed as, “decidedly lame” by the Boston Phoenix) and the enduring classic, “Barnacles Tell No Lies” (a music video about the sex life of barnacles, produced in 1991).
In a more serious vein he wrote and directed a film about three lobster fishermen on the coast of Maine (“Salt of the Earth: A journey to the heart of Maine lobster fishermen” which will be honored at the University of Maine in September, 2010) and a film about three women scientists who work in the deep sea submersible, “Alvin” (“On the Surface”).
In film school he wrote and directed the musical comedy short film, “You Ruined My Career,” which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and earned numerous awards including a Gold Plaque at the Chicago Film Festival, then began his filmic exploration of science communication with the twenty minute short, “Talking Science: The Elusive Art of the Science Talk.” This was followed by three short films for Rutgers University’s COOLRoom project in 2000.
Since 2002 Randy Olson has been the Director of the Shifting Baselines Ocean Media Project. He has created a library of short films working with comic actors including Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Jennifer Coolidge, Ben Stiller, Henry Winkler, and members of the famed Groundlings Improv Comedy Theater.