Category Archives: Pioneers

Science documentary film series Pioneers by Karol Jalochowski, produced by Polityka, supported by Centre for Quantum Technologies, NUS.

Pioneers at the edge(s) of the world

Autumn has just started needling us shamelessly with cold rain, battering with this-is-not-a-breeze-look-for-a-shelter, but in other respects this October has been developing surprisingly well.

Slowly but stubbornly my dearest series Pioneers go global. Yeah, it’s a quiet percolation rather than a brute invasion, and it won’t win anyone an Oscar, but that’s not the point of the series. The point is to make people think how thrilling the process of deepening our understanding of the world might be – and what fascinating people, outstanding thinkers often neglected by the ratings oriented media, are engaged in this adventure.

Centre for the Meeting of Cultures in Lublin is launching a series of meetings titled PIONEERS – talks about the boundaries of imagination: “We invite you to the Screening Room of the Centre for the Meeting of Cultures in Lublin to film projections and accompanying discussions with journalists from the POLITYKA weekly as well as artists and scientists. As part of the project, you will also be spectators of an experiment combining art and science”. Come over, if you’re around!

Six episodes of the series will be presented there. The grand opening, organized in cooperation with the Avant project, will be crowned with Daniel C. Dennett’s presence (the philosopher will also meet our readers in Warsaw, a day before). Virginia and Greg Chaitin, Julian Barbour, Charles H. Bennett, Freeman Dyson, and Artur Ekert – they all are going to be in Lublin too. Slightly disembodied – but who cares about bodies in this digital age. They’re so overhyped.

Pioneers take New York City as well. The series (exemplified by the Freeman Dyson’s episode) has just been featured in the NYC based SciArt Magazine, a bimonthly which motto I couldn’t agree more with: “Art and science have long shared a common ground; the ground of boundless inquiry about the nature of our existence”.

Julia Buntaine, founder, editor-in-chief, and a science-based artist herself, says: “While science-based art has a growing presence, the movement at large remains scattered. I want to fix this.” Thank you, Julia!

Don’t forget to check out the magazine. You can read free some of the articles. And if you happen to be in New York City, look for SciArt Center events. It’s a must.

A screening of Julian Barbour’s episode (followed by a discussion about nature of time) has become an element of the second edition of the Abstract Thought Festival, a fresh and refreshing Warsaw festival which name speaks for itself.

And finally – Russia. Yes, Pioneers will explore the vastness of this paradoxical country again. Firstly – FANK Science Film Festival in Moscow and Tobolsk (two episodes will be screened alongside such fascinating doc experiments as Lake Vostok. At the Mountains of Madness by Ekaterina Eremenko). And secondly – Eurekafest in Novosibirsk.

Ah, one more thing – all episodes of the series are now available in the US and in Canada (and elsewhere too) via online system of the Alexander Street publishing house, the leading American provider of media for learning and research. Pioneers are in a good company (to mention the Criterion Collection films, also distributed by the Alexander Street). Visit your university or local library, Pioneers might be already there.

Remind me not to complain for some time, not this October.

Postcards from the quantum edge

Before I write more (soon), let me express gratitude for visiting the website by sending those sound postcards taken in a mysterious city on the Equator.

I grew up listening to small format analogue records called pocztówki dźwiękowe – singles or extended play records with images imprinted in them – here’s my tribute to this ingenious (and slightly forgotten) invention.

Those tiny bits of footage, taken from my b-roll Singaporean archives, were used to promote an experiment we run this May with Jacek Mazurkiewicz during the one and only Copernicus Festival in Cracow.

We screened Artur Ekert: A Model Kit (the latest installment of the Pioneers series) with dialogue and ambient sounds tracks only – with Jacek creating unearthly music with his double bass and electronic machinery – live! Just like in the old days of silent cinema.

Since our little experiment went way better than we expected, we’ll be thinking of doing it again.

And, perhaps,  even more than once.

This last one, above, we shot with Artur Ekert in Bali. The footage has been never used – awaits its moment.

Sound and science hooligans on board

Here it is. Trailer of the latest, seventh installment of the Pioneers series. Artur Ekert DIY. 

Let me quote the synopsis: In 1992 Artur Ekert (b. 1961), a young maverick mathematician and physicist, invented a unique kind of quantum cryptography. Being a recipe for the perfect cipher, it also questioned some common truths about the nature of free will and randomness. Despite being intensively researched the idea remains remarkably challenging and elusive – as does its inventor. This rare movie presents Artur Ekert in his ad hoc habitat, in Singapore.

I hope you’ll enjoy the trailer (and a bonus, below) – the movie premiere soon.

Images – well you’ve seen some of them. Artur, you might know him as well, from our other projects (The Mechanics, Reality Lost, etc.). He’s a famously elusive master of quantum Zen.

The novel element, the killer element indeed, is the original music composed and performed by Jacek Mazurkiewicz, contrabassist, composer, and sound hooligan – the rising star of European jazz and improvisational scene. Just listen to this excerpt.

Jacek and Artur, honor and pleasure to have you both on board in this project. Thanks a million, guys!

PS Yes, we filmed at Rochor Centre, one of those haunting places in Singapore that are silently giving way to so called modernity.

Selling docs in the city of dancing huizen

So – how is it to sell a movie? Your movie. You know its weaknesses, you hate all those moments that suck (but you don’t know how to fix them), you are well aware that its idiosyncrasies – but you still deeply believe in it, you believe that perhaps you’ve managed to save this little piece of reality from getting forgotten, unnoticed. But becoming a victim of your own subjectivism and ordinary bias is so instinctive….

So – how it is to sell a science documentary movie which doesn’t fit common formats, the movie which is intentionally old fashioned and slow paced? Let the talking heads talk, someone I respect greatly said. But how to sell a talking head in the YouTube era, when attention span equals ten seconds? Well, it doesn’t come easily.

Visit to IDFA: International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam was quite an experience. Despite the fact that the Pioneers series has been screened, broadcasted, noticed, and even praised locally, breaking the barrier and making it internationally recognizable is a challenge. The more that science sells rather poorly at the Docs for Sale market. But: 1) countless lessons were learned, 2) wonderfully helpful people met, 3) new ideas conceived. And yes – some great deals were made too! More about it – soon, once it’s official. 

Enough whining and boasting – time for a trivial closing observation. While taking pictures of the old Amsterdam, I noticed nothing. Although then, editing them for export, I found myself clueless about the apparent optical distortions of the images. Houses seemed to be dancing. Each wiggled separately, leaning to the right, to the left, hanging over, falling down. One could look for a single vertical and horizontal line in vain.

But this is how it is – due to the moving foundations, laid on a sloughy ground, all the buildings have been acting like living organisms. A short visit to the Rijks Museum proves it wasn’t intended at all, of course, when the Herengracht was designed and erected. Have a look at the View of the Golden Bend in the Herengracht by Gerrit Adriaensz (1671-1672). What perfectly – and boringly – executed a layout!

The question is: what makes movies and buildings truly interesting?

Trials and errors in an equatorial multiverse

Sometimes story comes first, sometimes form does. And sometimes they grow together, in an organic way. That was the case of Ekert: A Model Kit, the seventh episode of the Pioneers series. We were experimenting on the set, with Artur Ekert, looking for a proper flow (some early beta testers of the movie ask if we were high when filming – we were definitely not), and then I continued home, editing.

Striking a proper aesthetic mode that would correspond to the subject matter, which is the idea of quantum multiverse, was a challenge. My intention was to bring this Singaporean, equatorial, radiant, humid heat to the screen, and make it flicker, multiply, and overlap, but not in a classical way, but a possibly “quantum” one. Did I succeed – it’s not for me to judge.

This trial and error method generated a handful of by-products, teasers, two of which I decided to present below. 

The movie is being now processed by Jacek Mazurkiewicz, a master of double bass – more about it soon!


Are all quantum physicists poorly localized?

Filming the seventh episode of the Pioneers series was quite an adventure – I shot Artur Ekert in Singapore, tormented him before and after sunset, and bothered him in Indonesia, when he tried (in vain) to find a hideaway.

Who is Artur Ekert? He was born in 1961, in Poland. He is a physicist, mathematician, and one of the inventors of quantum cryptography and quantum information science.

Here he explains how to keep secrets in a world of mistrust – in a little movie we shot in Singapore, announcing an article by Artur Ekert and Renato Renner that was published in the 27 March issue of Nature, the weekly international journal of science:

Artur Ekert is a professor at the University of Oxford and the National University of Singapore, a top notch security advisor, a founder of the Centre for Quantum Computation at Cambridge, and the director of the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore. Artur Ekert has been awarded the Maxwell Medal, an Institute of Physics Prize, the Hughes Medal, and the European Union Descartes Prize. He’s also a Royal Society Fellow. 

In real life he is an easygoing chap with one funny quirk – he is unbelievably poorly localized, just like a quantum object (have a look at the video we filmed four years ago, above). Artur Ekert has to be chased, which – action wise – is not the worst kind of situation you can imagine…

More about the movie soon. Today let me share a few freeze frames – and a teaser trailer (top). Enjoy!

Yes – regarding media footprint you might also know Artur Ekert from Reality Lost, or the pilot of Breaking the Codes, the movie we’ll shoot one of these days.

The mystery scored by Boyd F. C. Bennett

A Drinking Bird Mystery deals with a drinking bird mystery, of course. But there’s another mystery: how good music transforms a movie, how it elevates a movie. Especially if the music itself is a crucial part of the story. Just like in the Charles H. Bennett’s case.

Boyd F. C. Bennett father was a musician and a talented composer, based in upstate New York. His legacy continues embodied by the Bennett Conservatory of Music in Croton on Hudson, which he co-founded in 1950. It is also transmitted into the future encoded as musical scores. Having been granted access (courtesy Charles H. Bennett) to some of them I discovered that this is exactly the kind of the music that I had been looking for.

A kind of intelligent playfulness marked by occasional darker undertones characteristic for Boyd F. C. Bennett’s compositions perfectly matched the persona of the protagonist, the ambience of locations – and the story itself.

Since I’m a musical troglodyte I badly needed an expertise – and someone able to actually play the score right. The help was impersonated by Jan Bokszczanin, thoroughly educated Russian born Polish musician and organ pipe virtuoso (follow him, he is not only a great musician who plays in places like the Notre Dame cathedral in paris, but also a devoted teacher and local activist). All the music by Boyd F. C. Bennett used in the movie is played by Jan.

There is also other composers’ music in A Drinking Bird Mystery, like this beautiful Alexandre Tansman’s Sonatina, recorded by Jan Bokszczanin and Paweł Gusnar on New Polish Music for saxophone and organ (Musica Sacra Edition, 2007).

A Drinking Bird Mystery solved… is not

Some time ago I showed you an early teaser of A Drinking Bird Mystery, the sixth installment of the Pioneers series. The movie is my attempt at compressing some aspects of Charles H. Bennett’s genius, wit, and charm into sixty minutes long piece of a narrative.

Since I am not allowed to present the whole episode (it’ll premiere in a few months time), I’d be happy to expose you to this trailer (below). I think it’s quite representative of the entire thing.

The movie revolves around the motive of remembering, attempts of saving small past events that went unnoticed, and the process of solidifying them by film and photography.

The polaroids you can see below play a vital role in the movie. All of them were taken by Charles H. Bennett at locations we visited while filming. They might appear grim, but don’t be mistaken – the movie is not.