Science in Dark Times follows the work of a remarkable woman, Dame Juliet Gerrard, Jacinda Ardern's Chief Science Advisor, through three years of dramatic crises, including the Whakaari White Island eruption and the unfolding of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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As the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Dame Juliet Gerrard has become a central figure in the way New Zealand reacts to crises, providing important scientific advice from which our leaders take guidance. Science has played a greater role in our lives than ever before, and New Zealand has attracted worldwide attention for its success in minimising the impact of Covid-19 and cutting-edge work in genome testing. Recorded over three extraordinary years (and through dramatic national and global crises, including the eruption of Whakaari White Island, global pandemic and the ongoing effects of climate change), documentary filmmaker Shirley Horrocks captures the woman at the forefront of it all.
The film examines Juliet’s unorthodox trajectory, from a provincial high school to a first-class honours degree in Chemistry at Oxford, her 1997 move to Christchurch and eventual ascent to be one of the nation’s most respected scientists. Gerrard welcomes us into her laboratory and “bunker”, the national emergency headquarters in the basement of the Beehive, where she collaborates with some of the country’s top minds. On-the-job footage is supplemented with quiet, unobserved moments: at home, or holidaying on Great Barrier Island. The filmmaker’s intimate access presents a portrait of the woman as both an immaculate professional and humorous, down-to-earth individual.
Horrocks, a veteran filmmaker of 30 years and known for her documentaries on artists, continues her pivot to scientific subjects. Having previously examined the work of physicist Sir Paul Callaghan and the Transit of Venus astronomy event, she now shines a light on a pioneering woman, accomplished scientist and remarkable yet underexposed role model. — Adrian Hatwell