Category Archives: Pioneers

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

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.

Chasing reality (and beauty) at the Copernicus Festival

Yes, reality must have accelerated too much to keep up with it – leaving this blog in a slow lane. But nothing was lost. Records of the past have been kept – and will be revealed in subsequent posts.

First – Cracow and the 3rd edition of Copernicus Festival. Three of “my” real life Pioneers were invited by the organizers (Jacek Ślusarczyk from Tygodnik Powszechny was behind it) of this intellectual multithreaded May feast. 

Greg and Virginia Chaitin flew straight from Brazil, Julian Barbour came from a pre-Brexit England – all of them in order to discuss the meaning and role of the notion of beauty… no, no, I should say Beauty – in science. And in this thing we call life too, of course.

Having a spare morning we hiked with Julian in Kraków-Częstochowa Upland – guided by Piotr Seweryn, and chased by the rain which made it even more fun, considering the absolute lack of tread on the noble physicist’s shoes. We shot this short promotional video by the Prądnik river (of time).

Yes, yes, you’ve guessed it right: Julian Barbour’s Bottom’s Dream had its DVD premiere – this July! And Against the Method a month later! Things are happening, don’t they?

Both movies can be purchased here: VOD premieres soon.

Here’s an Against the Method DVD trailer. Watch and check for yourselves why wearing a hat in a right way is wrong.

Below you’ll find Julian’s and Greg’s lectures, and the discussion they took part in, joined by Michał Heller, an astrophysicist, cosmologists, philosopher, the head of the Copernicus Center, and also the spiritus movens of the festival.

Those three hour long events are definitely worth watching in full extent.

Both Bottom’s Dream and Against the Method had their screenings (followed by solid discussions) at Mikro, a cuddly shabby cinema that somehow manages to stand the wave of commercialization and gentrification.

Here are some great photos – courtesy of Kamila Zarembska-Szatan.

In order to prove that Pioneers are real people enjoying both intellectual and more visceral, night pleasures I dare to attach photos taken at a retro bar (which location I can’t reveal without killing you all). It’s a place which you can be exposed to by a local only.

No soft drinks there.

Ah, yes – and there was a sunny coda in Warsaw: Greg and Virginia embarked a pendolino train to pay a sentimental visit to Mokotów, the place where Virginia spent some of the best years of her childhood. Come more often! 

To Virginia, Greg, Julian, and the whole Cracow embodied by the people too numerous (Jacek Ślusarczyk, Bartosz Brożek, Diana Sałacka, Bartosz Janik, Piotr Krasnowolski, Marta then Czubajewska, Piotr Seweryn and many others) to be listed here: that was a splendid May week – and a proof that something as ethereal as a movie can have such a wonderful and memorable side effects.

Thank you.


On the ambiguity of the past, Zen, and mathematical ethics

It’s high time to reveal the next pioneer – the charming and playful genius of Charles H. Bennett. By the way – he hates being described as a genius, so the deepest apologies for that, Charles.

As you might already suspect, it’ll be the second episode of the second season of my documentary series.

The final cut should be ready in two, three months, then the movie will be queued for distribution (I’ll keep you posted on the progress), but I’ve just prepared an early alpha teaser v 1.0 – to be, hopefully, enjoyed right now (above).

Charles H. Bennett is widely known for his research in quantum information field. If fact he is one of the very creators of it. He was involved in the milestone discoveries of quantum cryptography and quantum teleportation, both theory and experiment wise. In 1984, with Gilles Brassard, he developed the first quantum cryptography protocol. Then, in 1993, he went even further, proposing a scheme of transmitting quantum information from one location to another (in collaboration with Gilles Brassard, Claude Crépeau, Richard Jozsa, Asher Peres, and William Wootters). But the movie will focus on something completely different – on Charles Bennett’s recent, more philosophical musings.

In this sixth episode of Pioneers Charles will tell a story of the past. More precisely – on the ambiguity of the past, and the complexity of the present. We’ll look for the answer for the question of the ontological status of the past. In other words: we’ll try to explain what facts of the past can be truly and entirely recovered from their physical traces in the present.

We’ll follow some of those tiny events, like water droplets evaporating in the desert heat, waves shaping surface of a forest lake, asking whether they’re doomed to be entirely forgotten – or not.

We spent three crazy days filming the episode in the autumn woods of Massachusetts and Upstate New York. That was a fabulous intellectual ride!

And here’s more – some time ago Charles, a physics trained natural born humanist, introduced a provocative idea of mathematical ethics. Here’s is a conversation on the topic.

It’s a part of jam session with Vlatko Vedral, quantum mechanics maverick from Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore, and University of Oxford (many thanks, Vlatko), that I arranged and filmed two years ago, when Charles Bennett was visiting Singapore.

At some point, when time allows, I’ll try to properly edit the rest (slightly more specialistic) of the footage. But even whose eight minutes of discussion between two gentlemen is something truly worth your attention.

And if you’re intrigued by the persona of Vlatko Vedral (you definitely should), I’ve got yet something else.  In this short film that I also shot in Singapore Vlatko presents his intriguing views on the fabric of reality. Have fun!

Oh yes – I would almost forget: Charles Bennett is one of the key protagonists of Reality Lost, a documentary that presents paradoxical outcomes of two quantum revolutions – the movie made in anticipation of the third one.

Reality Lost was produced by Centre for Quantum Technologies at National University of Singapore, written, directed and shot by me – with a huge and lasting support of Artur Ekert and Dag Kaszlikowski.

Below you’ll find an excerpt on quantum cryptography (the BB84 protocol, to be precise).  All the excerpts are collected here.

And a bonus scene: Artur Ekert, Gilles Brassard, and Charles H. Bennet reminisce about the beginnings of quantum information theory and foundations of quantum mechanics research. There’s more of bonus scenes, of course.


The eternal problem with b-rolls

The eternal problem with b-rolls is as follows: either you have too much of an additional footage, or too little. Usually the latter is the case, of course.

To collect a proper amount of illustrative footage that would constitute a visual context and, sometimes, provide a subtext to the story told by Freeman Dyson, I drove to Sandy Hook, NJ, I spent a day filming in Queens, NY, and one hectic autumn evening at Coney Island, NY. And not a second of that footage, taken not without an effort, made it to the movie. After days of considering various options I decided to stick to the solid Aristotelian unities of action, time, and space, limiting visual chaos to the absolute minimum.

The space is provided by the surroundings of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, by changing color of the foliage, by changing weather, altering humidity, shifting ambience. You’ll see how it works, if it works, when this episode of Pioneers has its premiere.

I decided to utilize that Coney Island footage, though, in a more or less creative way, by preparing a meditative teaser of the movie. For your enjoyment, of course.

Freeman Dyson explains what his notion of god is, what role the mind might play in the universe – and what the world-soul is.


Space Dreamer has landed

Freeman Dyson (born in 1923, England) is a legendary science figure who has influenced countless fields of knowledge. Without his talent of seeing things in their innermost nature science would be way different today (to mention quantum electrodynamics).

His subversively optimistic views on numerous topics stirred a lot of controversy. As Dyson likes to explain his stance: The world needs heretics to challenge orthodoxies. It is better to be wrong than to be vague.

Freeman Dyson is also a lone proponent of the idea of long term deep space colonization. I’m obsessed with the future, he says.

For the last 70 years Dyson has been involved in numerous nuclear disarmament and peace initiatives. His actions during the Cold War made the planet a lot safer place than it had been expected to be.

And here is a trailer of the movie that we shot together in October and November 2015, in Princeton, New Jersey. I can’t express how grateful I am for all the time (and patience) that Freeman Dyson granted me. Many, many thanks!

Although conversations covered many aspects of Freeman Dyson’s rich fabric of life, the movie itself focuses on one thread only, the one associated with space exploration – the one that has something to do with another space dreamer, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and one of many unfulfilled dreams of the Atomic Age.

Although I’d love to, I can’t reveal more at the moment, since the movie will have its premiere soon. It will open the second season of my Pioneers doc series. What I can reveal is that music was written by cétieu, a highly talented Polish artist who tames drones like nobody else.