What happens when a scientist becomes a filmmaker? In the case of Valerie Weiss, a filmmaker with a Ph.D. in Biophysics, she finds herself “losing control.” Weiss’s film Losing Control is a quirky romantic comedy about a female scientist who needs empirical proof that her boyfriend is “the one.” The film was viewed at a special advanced screening on October 25, 2011, at the E Street Cinema in Washington, DC, courtesy of The Exchange and the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences (CPNAS). A thought-provoking discussion of the film’s portrayal of science, scientists, and the general topic of women in science followed the screening, featuring Weiss; actor John Billingsley; two female scientists, Barbara Arial Cohen and Leslie Zebrowitz; and moderator Anne-Marie Mazza, director of the Science, Technology, and Law (STL) Program at the National Academies.
Audience members were also given the opportunity to ask questions of the panelists, such as “Do scientists date differently?” (Both Cohen and Zebrowitz concluded scientists date like any other profession.) Attendees also wanted to know what Weiss thought about a perhaps science-bending scene in the film, where the protagonist, Sam, breaks out of a mental institution with the electrical currents from her friend’s face. Weiss laughed, acknowledging that she took some liberties, but the fun of the movie is not from realistic science. Weiss also answered questions on how she developed the plot of the film. As it turns out, both the espionage and Y-kill protein plot elements were derived from real events and real science. What about the kitchen scene where Sam performs an experiment while her mother makes dinner? Cohen mentioned the conditions are similar to her experiments in barns with cows – not sanitary but not harmful to the experiment. Weiss also shared the story of how she became a filmmaker, plus some details about her next science-related project, Overstuffed. But her parting words focused on Losing Control itself, an independent film that survives on word-of-mouth exposure. You can learn more about the film at http://losingcontrolmovie.com, including finding a screening in your area and keeping up-to-date with news on the film prior to its Valentine’s Day release in 2012.