The new feature-length documentary by filmmaker and evolutionary biologist Randy Olson, “Flock of Dodos” was shown at the Bell Museum last night. Executive Producer Steven Miller, and the Minnesota Evolutionary Musketeers, Scott Lanyon, Mark Borrello and PZ Myers were in attendance to lead a discussion afterwards, moderated by the Phil Donahue Like Shanai Matteson.
Randy Olson left the world of science to pursue a career in Hollywood, and after about 10 years of not paying a lot of attention to his former career, learned that a new theory had emerged to explain the diversity of life: Intelligent Design. This film chronicles his quest to find out what Intelligent Design had to offer, and to explore the political and social conflict associated with the rise of this new idea.
It is an absolutely fair film in that both “sides” are given ample opportunity to demonstrate merit. As such, of course, the Intelligent Design side of the discussion appears significantly weaker and sometimes downright foolish, and occasionally nefarious.
This film has been well received. Many reviewers note a comparison with Michael Moore … I have to say, I’m a Michael Moore fan (not a nut over him, I just think he has talent and a sufficiently demented sense of humor to enjoy). Olson is NOT a Moore clone, despite the similarities. While Olson’s voice is clear in Flock, it is not “in your face” but rather a voice that is always there drawing out, sometimes cajoling, others to be heard.
Olson’s experience as an evolutionary biologist turned filmmaker placed him in a unique position. The evolutionary biologists he interviews are either people he knows or people who know people he knows .. in other words, members of his extended professional community. This allows him license to poke fun at them. It also allows him to treat their position in the film with a respectful rather than snide humor.
On the other side of it, it turns out that Olson is a native Kansan, and his mom (spiritualist “Muffy Moose”), one of the stars of the film, lives around the corner from one of the principle players in the Kansas ID movement. Olson’s family and community ties, and his being a Prairie Homeboy himself, gives him the ability to treat the ID representatives with simultaneous respect and humor.
While the Intelligent Design “movement/theory” (both in quotes, you will note) is trumped by the science in this film, the weakness of the scientists as a group … especially when it comes to making their case to the public … is clearly underscored. Olson replicates the famous “Harvard Poker Game” (which used to be played at my good friend Irv’s house back in the day) at which several scientists sit around talking about Intelligent Design. Each time one of the scientists comes up with a multisyllabic erudite utterance (a fancy word), the film stops and goes to a black screen on which a definition of the word is typed out. In this and other ways, the scientists are duly mocked.
But I must say the opportunities Olson was able to exploit for mocking the Intelligent Design proponents were myriad and wonderful.
So while the IDers in general were trumped, the BIG loser, losing poignantly, painfully, even Michael-Mooresquely, was ID Central itself, the Discovery Institute. They are shown to be deeply, darkly, impressively evil. I won’t give you the details …. and it is nothing like the main point of the film … just go see it. It is worth noting that while the Discovery Institute would not give Olson the time of day at the time he made the movie, they have since reacted strongly and very negatively to it (creating an entire web site about it “Hoax of Dodos”). I would give you the link to it but, well, they can go screw themselves.
The post viewing discussion was as expected: Informative and lively. Unlike the recent situation in Seattle, the filming was not infiltrated by the Discovery Institute, as far as I know. Excellent questions were asked, and points were made. The two creationists who spoke out were low key and were treated respectfully.
The film is currently available from DER, at institutional-use price and license. If you are with an institution, go buy it now on the company’s dime!!! It will be on Showtime a bit later, and around summer, available from all the usual sources as a home-use DVD.
I’d like to express a particular thanks for Steve Miller for coming to the Twin Cities in sub-zero weather to view the film with us (but I hastily add, I think Steve is a Minneapolitian, but since he currently lives in the Deep South, this could not have been easy).