From venues to virtual

The annual Sci-On! Film Festival heads online for its latest edition

Jennifer Ken’ts film, Fertile Waters, is a documentary filmed in Mongolia about two biology professors at the University of Nevada, Reno—Zeb Hogan and Sudeep Chandra—studying the largest trout species in the world, which is also under threat of extinction.

The annual Sci-On! Film Festival heads online for its latest edition
An annual science-themed film festival based in Reno has gone the way of some other local entertainment events in the time of COVID-19: it’s found a home on the internet.

The fifth Sci-On! Film Festival will be available online May 4-9 in a Monday through Saturday format that befits the “what day is this?” vibe we are all living in. It’ll also be some great entertainment for fans of science fiction and fact, with an educational component for added measure.

Sci-On! is known for featuring short films that either cover those subjects, with filmmakers from a dozen countries. Elements of the original festival—panels, filmmaker meetings, Q&As—will still be a part of the Sci-On!, as be the final audience vote for favorite films.

The films are in a variety of styles, from live action to animation, and with varied technology being used. For instance, one film is being touted as “the tiniest film ever created,” because it was shot with an electron microscope.
Tonally, the films are also all over the map, with comedies and pop-culture-laden works to more studious films about medicine, climate change and space travel.

One of the filmmakers is from Reno. Jennifer Kent is a photographer and videographer who also works in marketing. She has submitted two films for the festival, her first time as a part of Sci-On!

One of Kent’s films is called Fertile Waters, a documentary filmed in Mongolia about two biology professors from the University of Nevada, Reno—Zeb Hogan and Sudeep Chandra—studying the largest trout species in the world, which is also under threat of extinction. Hogan is also the host of the National Geographic TV program, Monster Fish.

Kent filmed the documentary over seven days in Mongolia. “One of the things that I really like about the film, and felt was really important, was getting the perspective of the local population and local fishing guides,” Kent said. “The guides are very invested in the protection of the trout. It took all seven days to build those relationships with them where they could get to a comfort level to speak about it.”
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Kent’s second film is actually an episode of the TV show Mineral Mondays, which features Keck Museum curator Garrett Barmore on the subject of earth sciences. The episode features Barmore and an elementary school student talking about fossils, with the student even contributing her own hand-drawn animation as part of the show.

Kent submitted her films to Jenny and Paul McFarlane, who are the festival’s co-curators and also operate two of its beneficiaries. Paul McFarlane is the director of Fleischmann Planetarium, while Jenny McFarlane is operations and outreach director of The Challenger Learning Center, which is inside the National Automobile Museum. Both of their venues served as venues for Sci-On!

Funds raised as part of the festival will also go to the University District Museums and Northern Nevada International Center. The festival started five years ago as an extra education opportunity to be provided by the McFarlanes and their volunteers for area students.

“We realized that science fiction is a great way to get students engaged in getting into real-life science and technology,” said Jenny McFarlane. “A festival like this seemed like a natural fit for our outreach to students.”

In order to bring the festival online this year, the McFarlanes are working in Zoom for the panels—which they both likened to “bonus features”—and a technology called Festibee that has been used for smaller film festivals before and allows streaming that still protects the rights of the filmmakers.
While they both acknowledged that there are some last-minute details to still attend to, they shared enthusiasm and confidence for the festival to continue on, sparking the imagination of audiences who love science in all its forms.

“People who write science fiction really do imagine the future before someone else dreams it up, so featuring films in this way is really a glimpse into the future,” said Paul McFarlane.

Find out more about the festival, including admission and pass prices and specific times for films to be streamed, at www.sci-on.org.

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