Home / News / IFTN chat to Science on Screen 2016 Funding Award Recipients Mia Mullarkey & Alice McDowell

IFTN chat to Science on Screen 2016 Funding Award Recipients Mia Mullarkey & Alice McDowell

The Science on Screen award which is currently open for 2017 submissions offers €35,000 to documentary filmmakers engaging with the medical device research themes of CÚRAM, based in Co. Galway.

Mia Mullarky and Alice McDowell are co-producers and directors of ‘Feats of Modest Valour’, which follows three individuals live clockwork existences, dictated by a strict regime of medication and the challenging physical reality of living with Parkinson’s disease. Meanwhile, a team of dedicated scientists in Galway are developing a new medical device, which could potentially halt or even cure the devastating disease.

IFTN talk through their project, their experience of the scheme and the new connection being forged between film and science by the Science on Screen initiative. Dr. Eilís Dowd who is a Senior Lecturer from the Department of Pharmacology in NUI Galway, also joins the conversation.

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

Mullarkey & McDowell: “The film has certainly brought awareness of the research that is taking place. We have spoken to many patients and Irish Parkinson’s groups who are delighted to be able to watch the film and find out about the groundbreaking science happening in Ireland.”

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

Mullarkey & McDowell: “After making the film the scientists involved were deeply moved by witnessing the lives of the patients, entering into their personal worlds and humanising the disease. Likewise, patients who have seen the film were moved by the determination of the scientists and by the animation which looked at what happens in the brain. Creating that visual and narrative bridge between communities fosters dialogue and learning and makes something seemingly complex or distant feel accessible and essential.

IFTN: Tell us how you became involved with the scheme initially and what the outcome was

Dowd: “I became aware of the Science-on-Screen initiative through my research with the Centre for Research in Medical Devices. CÚRAM’s resident filmmaker-turned Science Engagement Officer, Claire Riordan, together with Galway Film Centre and Galway UNESCO City of Film, applied for, and was awarded, a grant from Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover Programme. This provided the funding for the Science-on-Screen partnership. Once this was in place, several CÚRAM scientists, including myself, pitched their research areas to an audience of filmmakers – a pretty scary audience for scientists used to presenting their work to other scientists! In the audience that day, were two incredibly talented filmmakers from ISHKA films, namely Mia Mullarkey and Alice McDowell. Mia and Alice were captured by my own research area – using stem cells and biomaterials to repair the brain affected by neurodegenerative disease. Hence, the concept for the Parkinson’s disease film ‘Feats of Modest Valour’ was born.”

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

Dowd: “Absolutely – it is an incredible film to have. Mia and Alice produced a film that weaves people, science, medicine, art and music in such an effective way. I myself have used it as a way to bring people with Parkinson’s disease into my classrooms, lecture theatres and conferences. All too often there is too much distance and separation between the patients and the scientists. This film not only captures the impact of Parkinson’s disease on the lives of three incredible people – Milena, Brian and Tom—a grandmother, a farmer and an actor–but it also delves into the Parkinsonian brain and illustrates what happens during the course of the condition, and how stem cells and biomaterials have the potential to be used to repair the damage caused.”

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

Dowd: “Without a doubt. Effective partnership between scientists and filmmakers has the potential to open the world of biomedical research to everyone. Who doesn’t want to know how our brains work?? Take the chemical messenger dopamine for example – dopamine not only helps us to move (and hence its loss causes the movement problems associated with Parkinson’s disease), but is also causes the pleasurable feelings we get when we eat, drink and have sex. Because these activities are essential for our survival, we have evolved a system (dopamine release) to make them pleasurable and “rewarding” so that we’ll repeat them. This natural and essential reward system is what is hijacked and amplified by drugs of abuse. A drug like cocaine, for example, acts by flooding the brain with dopamine thereby producing the pleasurable (but highly addictive!) effects of taking cocaine. Who doesn’t want to know this stuff – or maybe it’s just me!”

See IFTN for interview

Apply for Science on Screen Now
Learn more about ‘Feats of Modest Valour’

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