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Tribeca Talks: <br>Inherit the Wind

The panel discussion following Inherit the Wind Saturday afternoon proved to be extremely informative and lively, with a highly qualified panel discussing the contemporary debate between evolution and creationism.

Inherit the Wind still

Few courtroom dramas are as tense, and as gripping, as Stanley Kramer's Inherit the Wind; indeed, it serves as perhaps the epitome of that genre. With an all star-cast (Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly), a world-famous source of inspiration (the Scopes "monkey trial," as well as a hit play of the same name), and a supremely talented director (Stanley Kramer, who would follow this up with Judgment at Nuremberg), it is not hard to see why the film is such a classic. Dealing with the tale of one Bertram Cates, a man arrested for teaching evolution in a Southern town, the film was, and still is, a lightning rod of controversy.

Yesterday Tribeca, in conjunction with the TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund, presented a screening of the 1960 picture, as well as a panel discussion afterwards. The panelists were filmmaker Jon Amiel, whose upcoming Creation depicts Charles Darwin's writing of On the Origin of Species; Jonathan Weiner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Beak of the Finch, a non-fiction book about one of the islands Darwin researched; Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education; and David Kohn, the general editor of the Darwin Digital Library of Evolution.

Liane Hansen of NPR moderated the discussion, which began by dealing with the film, but quickly found its way to the realm of politics. Amiel's view that Kramer "undermines his film from the start, by portraying Fredric March as a bombastic idiot" was the one comment that provided significant analysis of the film itself. This was unsurprising, as Amiel was the only member of the panel directly involved in cinema. Kohn did make the interesting remark that the film felt to be "more about 1960, and the Red Scare threat to democracy at the time, than it is about 1925," which was a point well taken.

The discussion took a turn for the political when Dr. Scott pointed out that the problem displayed in the film, as well as in America today, is not close-mindedness so much as it is the politicization of the American education system. "We have no national science curriculum," Scott said. "When I tell someone from Europe that, they are always shocked." She went on to note that it was ironic how, "today, creationists make the same arguments that evolutionists made in the film—that they simply want to have the right to teach what they think is good science, and we should let the students decide." Weiner noted that he didn't even realize how controversial the subject of evolution was until he started writing it, having taken it to be a given.

The Q&A session became particularly interesting when one local biology teacher explained that she had to provide a disclaimer for her students before beginning to teach evolution. "That is the effect of local, as opposed to national, educational decisions," Dr. Scott said. A blogger from the New Jersey Star-Ledger proved to be a voice from the opposition, explaining that he disagreed with the panelists, and wanted to know exactly why they were opposed to the teaching of creationism in schools, very much citing the similar reasoning to what Bertram Cates puts forth in the film. Dr. Scott, however, had a quick response: "If creationist scientists want their views to be taught in schools," Scott said, "then they should have their views accepted by the scientific community. The issue is that you cannot prove creationism, it's not scientific. As they say, 'You can't put God in a test tube.'"

Learn more about TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund.


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