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Filmmaker Mike Cahill on scientists and filmmakers: Different tools, similar pursuit

Jelena Vukotic

Michael Pitt as “Dr. Ian Grey” and Brit Marling as “Karen” in I ORIGINS.

Jelena Vukotic

Director Mike Cahill and Michael Pitt on the set of I ORIGINS.

Asheesh Bhatia

Director Mike Cahill on the set of I ORIGINS.

Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

Kevin Hand, Planetary Scientist and Astrobiologist, photogrpahed at the 2011 Explorers Symposium.


Filmmaker Mike Cahill's new movie “I Origins” won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in January. The film explores the relationship of two scientists probing the question of reincarnation.

Cahill grew up in a family of scientists, and his upbringing shaped not only the way he sees the world but also how he fictionalizes it in his features. His first film, “Another Earth,” also won the Sloan prize at Sundance in 2011. It tells the story of a parallel world.

J.P.L. astrophysicist Kevin Hand was a Sloan judge for Cahill’s most recent Sundance win. 

Trailer: I Origins

Cahill and Hand sat down with KPCC's John Horn to discuss the film. Horn suggested that the two were involved in professions that take a different approaches to their subject: Art, he said, asks questions. Science answers them.

That didn't go over well. 

"I think scientists and artists are doing the exact same thing," Cahill said. "They are the non-numbed ones of the world. They are asking 'Why are we here?', 'What is this all about?' and they're just using different tools to try and explore that, knowing that we're here for a short link of time in the grand scheme of the 13.7-billion-year old universe." 

Hand agreed. He said most movies depict scientists as caricatures.

"That's one of my pet peeves," he said. "The classic of course being the mad scientist played by Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future,’ … and then there's Dr. Strangelove. Nowadays you've got the guys on 'Big Bang Theory.' Those are all wonderful but that's such the caricature of what it means to be a scientist and how scientists behave. Fact of the matter is, scientists are pretty regular people. At the end of a day, we put our pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else."

You can catch 'I Origins' at L.A. theaters this weekend.


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