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2018 Science on Screen Award Recipients Caroline Kealy & Niamh Heary Talk with IFTN
04 Apr 2019 : Nathan Griffin
Science On Screen
IFTN caught up with Niamh Heery and Caroline Kealy, last year’s Science on Screen award recipient, to find out more about their filmmaking experience ahead of the 2019 Science on Screen Information Day, which takes place this Friday April 5th.

The Science on Screen initiative, which is currently accepting submissions for 2019, offers documentary filmmakers a chance to create a €35,000 26-minute documentary on the topic of PPI.

PPI refers to Public and Patient Involvement, in which people who are likely to be affected by new treatments or programmes developed through research, are directly involved in planning and shaping decisions about the research. The documentary is funded by the Health Research Board’s Knowledge Exchange And Dissemination Scheme 2018 awarded to the HRB Primary Care Clinical Trials Network Ireland and supported by CÚRAM.

Directed by Niamh Heery and produced by Caroline Kealy of Swansong Films, ‘A Tiny Spark’ examines the effect of cerebrovascular illness and stroke on people’s lives and specifically looks at research into the blood clots that cause stroke.

With a mixture of dramatic first-person accounts and beautiful animation sequences by Eric Dolan highlighting the functions of the various parts of the brain, A Tiny Spark is a film about science’s ability to affect real change for human life. A Tiny Spark focuses on stroke and cerebrovascular research being led by Neuroscientist, Dr. Karen Doyle from CÚRAM and Galway Neuroscience Centre in NUI Galway, which involves analysis of removed blood clots to see what information they may yield.

The Science on Screen Info Day for filmmakers will be held on Friday, April 5th in CÚRAM, NUI Galway.

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin caught up with Niamh and Caroline to find out more about their experience working with the initiative.

IFTN: How and why did you decide to apply for the Science on Screen funding initiative?

Niamh: “I had seen a couple of the other documentaries produced on the scheme and had heard good things from Alice McDowell about how herself and Mia Mullarkey found making Feats of Modest Valour, which was a really successful film in how it combined animation with science to produce poetic human stories. When it came to this year, Caroline suggested we take a serious look at applying. She went to the open day and I watched the videos of the day's presentations after that.”

Caroline: “I had previously been shortlisted for the scheme and was excited to apply again. It’s a great initiative and has made some fantastic pieces. I was really interested in the topic and was delighted to hear Karen Doyle’s presentation as I had personal experience of stroke with family and friends. I was very keen to make a piece that centred on that subject.”

IFTN: Your documentary ‘A Tiny Spark’ is centred on ground-breaking Stroke Research being carried out in Ireland. Do you think film is an effective medium to educate the populous about important scientific issues?

Niamh: “The great thing about film is that it can build narrative and inform people at the same time. It can evoke emotions using sound and image, while still educating the viewer with its content. So it's unique in that way. When it came to A Tiny Spark, I was keen as a director to a) get the science part right, and learn as much as possible about the research being done by Karen Doyle's team in CÚRAM, and b) make sure the participant stories we found were evocative, poignant and showed the bravery of human spirit. Once you have those two things right, the medium works extremely well to appeal to a broad audience.”

Caroline: “I think it’s a great way of educating the public about scientific issues. Part of the scheme allows for the film to be shown in schools throughout the year and also at a number of scientific events through CÚRAM to spread it to an audience where it is focused on education. The scheme is focused on getting the science correct but also being able to make it interesting and relatable to a broad audience. It’s a brilliant way of making the science more relatable.”

IFTN: Do you feel the use of film has enhanced awareness of the research being carried out and if so, why?

Niamh: “A Tiny Spark is only at the start of its public journey, but judging by the reception we've had from its premiere screening and the press that followed, it's clear that there's a huge appetite for films like this. From the very beginning, we made sure to link in with organisations such as the Irish Heart Foundation and Headway who are eager to use the film to show that there is hope for stroke survivors with the scientific research being done here in our own country. It's great to feel such positivity coming from what can be an extremely scary thing.”

Caroline: “It was great to have this opportunity to share this subject matter with the public and we're very much looking forward to it been spread to a wider audience. It’s only beginning its festival run but we hope that we will be able to show this film to audiences worldwide and at a national level. It had a great reception so far from members of the public, scientific leaders and stroke survivors themselves.”

IFTN: Do you imagine the partnership crafted between medical research and film could benefit other areas of science and if so, where?

Niamh: “I'd love to see more films about what goes on inside our brains and how it affects our feelings, personality, and actions. I loved talking to the neuroscientists and doctors who appear in our film about all of this. Dr. Doyle told me in an interview that the brain 'is the final frontier' in terms of what we know about the various organs in our body. There's still so much to know and I think film can really delve into the science in illustrative and entertaining ways. Especially when the research being done has enormous potential to save lives- that's a big draw for any director looking for dramatic subjects to film!”

Caroline: “I think there are so many areas of science that can benefit from partnering with film. It makes research more accessible by conveying it through a visual medium. Using animation in our own film allowed us to help the audience understand the science and I think there's a boundless amount of areas of scientific research that can benefit from that. For filmmakers, this is a wonderful way showing really interesting narratives in an artistic way, while also being able to educate the public on important scientific issues.”

The Science on Screen Info Day for filmmakers will be held on Friday, April 5th in CÚRAM, NUI Galway.

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