Twenty years ago they said they could save the world. Some people still believe them.
The Chicago-based, non-profit production company 137 Films returns with their latest science documentary The Believers. The company’s motive is to provide informative, educational and entertaining stories from the inside the fast-moving and often confusing world of science. In each of their films they explore how significant scientific breakthroughs affect society, culture and personal lives. Similarly to their three previous films, Far Horizons, Science at Work and The Atom Smashers, their fourth feature tackles another monumental and highly debated scientific discovery – Cold Fusion.
In March 1989 two respected scientists, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, put their careers in jeopardy as they announced they could solve all of the world’s energy crises using only batteries and seawater. Their groundbreaking notion of Cold Fusion took the world by storm, but because their discovery detracted from the laws of physics the two scientists fell under immense scrutiny. Their findings were soon condemned by the entire mainstream science community and the ensuing battle would leave the public confused, the press embarrassed and the two scientists’ reputations in tatters.
However, there are a few who refuse to accept that Cold Fusion is dead. A group of scientists, a radio personality and a high school student are confident that Cold Fusion will save the world – they are The Believers.
The quality of this documentary is that it maintains a balanced mindset throughout. The filmmaker’s outset isn’t to prove or disprove the theories of Cold Fusion, but to highlight the fiery debate that is still raging among professionals today. In keeping with this balanced attitude the directors Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross offer opinions from a selection of scientists, journalists and other opinionated commentators.
The filmmakers intended to make “a science documentary that isn’t just a scientist standing in front of a blackboard” and they achieved that with well executed documentary techniques. They cleverly blend archive footage of the initial responses from the late eighties with renewed opinions from contemporary interviews.
The biggest problem is something that is addressed within the film; unfortunately the filmmakers were unable to contact Stanley Pons during production. His viewpoint and personal account is lacking from the arguments and would have certainly improved the debate. While this is obviously a disappointment, his absence does reinforce how the now retired scientist feels about the subject.
The Believers is a thoroughly interesting documentary so well made that it won’t only appeal to science professionals, but also to a wider audience. The film is currently on the festival circuit and seeking national and international distribution, but as winner of the Golden Hugo: Best Documentary as Chicago International Film Festival, it’s certainly one to look out for.
Seen as part of the 48th Chicago International Film Festival