Interview filmmaker Adam Bolt
Adam Bolt is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker who believes that film can tell complex stories to a wide audience. His latest work, Human Nature (2019), investigates the discovery and ethical implications of CRISPR, a revolutionary technology for gene editing. InScience interviewed him about his film and his fascination for science: “Scientists tend to be fascinated by the unknown and so am I. Science is a journey to the edge of knowledge.’’
What is your background in science and how did it lead to making a film about CRISPR-Cas?
“I was a huge science nerd when I went to high school, I was very much into math and physics. But somehow I got the crazy idea to study film making and it took me twenty years to get back to science. Together with film producer Elliot Kirschner, I made some short films, when in 2016 CRISPR exploded. For everyone in genetics or in biology, this was the thing they couldn’t stop talking about. Usually, scientists aren’t into making big statements on the importance of new discoveries, but with CRISPR nobody could contain their enthusiasm. And soon they were claiming it would be the discovery of the decade, perhaps bigger than the founding of the internet.’’
Your film is very well structured, giving the viewer the feeling of discovering the world of genetics. How did you keep the overview when making a film from this huge amount of interviews? How did you keep it clear and structured?
“Well, that was the real challenge. We worked about a year longer on the film than intended and the editing itself took about six months longer than planned. It was hard to find the right balance. We didn’t want it to be too technical or too difficult, yet we also didn’t want to dumb things down. At the same time, we also tried to balance the feel of the film. We didn’t want the story about CRISPR to be too optimistic or too pessimistic. There are still too many questions about CRISPR to make a solid argument for or against it. We wanted to make this clear this to the viewer, so they could think about it themselves.’’
Genetic modification is a very controversial theme and your film gives a very balanced overview of the pros and cons of genetic editing. What are your feelings on the subject?
“I am wrestling with it myself. There are upsides to it, as it has the potential to cure diseases we can’t treat yet. It could also help with dealing with climate change. On the other hand, there are downsides, as it allows to change people’s nature and characteristics in disturbing ways. We cannot yet oversee the unintended effects. So I’m still unsure myself and I hope this film helps people see the big picture and that it makes them keep an eye on its development.’’
What does science mean to you?
“Many people have this wrong idea about science, that it is about things we know. That’s how you learn it in school: you learn to memorize scientific facts. Real science is different, however. Scientists tend to be fascinated by the unknown and so am I. Science is a journey to the edge of knowledge. In a way, it is like art in that respect, although science is about finding answers in the physical world, while art confronts it more on an emotional or intellectual level. That’s why I love both science and art.’’
Adam Bolt is the filmmaker of the film Human Nature, the opening film of the fifth edition of InScience. Get your tickets here. The film can also be seen on Friday 8 November. Get your tickets here.