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The Math Filmmaker
by Steven Middlestein
(lf-rt) Tal Skloot, Asali Echols, and George Csicsery hard at work on 'Taking the Long View', Oakland in 2010. photo: courtesy G. Csicsery
Despite the difficult years of 2010 and 2011, Oakland documentary maker George Csicsery and his company
has continued to thrive. Building on past successes in the mathematical biography field—Csicsery has all but cornered the market on math films with almost two dozen under his belt, he has also completed some long awaited documentaries, and taken on some new commissions.
The latter include "
Songs Along a Stony Road
," a feature about Transylvanian folk music made in conjunction with Chris Teerink. "We finally finished it in 2011, after twelve long and arduous years," George Csicsery told me.
"Songs Along a Stony Road" had its world premiere at the Chicago International Music and Movies Festival. It will also screen at the Netherlands Film Festival last fall and was invited to the International Folk Music Film Festival in Nepal 2012 with other festivals probably adding on soon. The next scheduled screening is at the Hungarian House in San Diego on April 29.
Another big project completed last year was "
Taking the Long View: The Life of Shiing-shen Chern
," a one-hour doc about a Chinese mathematician who had a major impact on 20th century mathematics and was instrumental in bringing higher math back to China after the Cultural Revolution. Although a 16-minute version of the film was screened in 2010 at the International Congress of Mathematics, in Hyderabad, India, the feature version was only completed in October 2011 in time for screenings at Chern's centennial celebrations in Tianjin, Berkeley, and Paris.
"I am looking forward to scheduling a Bay Area screening during the coming months," Csicsery noted, "And hopefully finding television distribution for this very interesting story."
One of the Transylvanian folk musicians featured in 'Songs Along a Stony Road', 2011 by Csicsery and Chris Teerink. photo: courtesy G. Csicsery
Last year Zala put out two videos for the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute: "The Geometry of Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch," 46 min, about Robert Osserman's analysis of Saarinen's soaring sculptural masterpiece in St. Louis, Missouri; the other, 22 min, a compilation of outreach programs presented by Osserman. Called "Mathematics is Everywhere" and part of a commemorative DVD created in memory of Osserman, who died late last year, it featured such colorful math-interested characters as Tom Lehrer, Tom Stoppard, and Steve Martin.
If that isn't enough math, hang on.
In March of 2011, Zala Films began producing shorts for the
Gathering For Gardner Foundation
(G4G), a non-profit that honors the achievements of Martin Gardner by explaining his ideas in recreational mathematics, magic, puzzles, and philosophy. The first of 19 sequences featured Scott Kim and Karl Schaffer talking about Gardner's influence on their lives and thinking and can be seen on their
Finally, Zala Films is proud to be associated with the production of the Simons Foundation's Science Lives video project presenting long-form, detailed interviews with prominent mathematicians and scientists for the Web. This is one of the most ambitious and biggest projects I've ever taken on.
The Science Lives project showcases a series of extended interviews with some of the giants of twentieth century mathematics and science. The collection, organized in collaboration with Hugo Rossi of the University of Utah, and David Eisenbud, of UC Berkeley, provides scientists, historians and students the opportunity to see and hear these great men and women discuss their lives and their thinking about their science and our world. They have taped eighteen interviews for the project since October 2010, with several more scheduled for filming in 2012.
The first three interviews posted on Simons Foundation site are with mathematicians Friedrich Hirzebruch, Yuri Manin, and Nobel Prize winning physicist C. N. Yang,
Lin Jing on camera shooting a scene at a hutong in Tianjin, China for Csicsery's 'Taking the Long View', 2011. photo: courtesy G. Csicsery
On other fronts, "
Child of Giants: My Journey with Maynard Dixon and Dorothea Lange
," a film he co-produced with Tom Ropelewski in 2009 had its television broadcast premiere on KQED, San Francisco’s PBS affiliate, as part of its TRULY CA documentary series. The film also screened at the Oakland Museum in September 2011 and was named Best Feature Film at the Glen Rose Neo-Relix Film Festival in Glen Rose, Texas. "Child of Giants" just completed a tour of several festivals in Ireland.
The 2008 film "Julia Robinson and Hilbert's Tenth Problem" started appearing on public television stations via syndication by American Public Television (APT) last year, as well. Preparation of the broadcast version of the film was made possible with support from the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) and a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
"It's also a great experience to find new life for old materials," noted Csicsery. "I've been making films since 1968, and year by year, I've managed to find ways to transfer the older 16mm films to digital." Last year Zala released "Hookers," a film Csiscery made with Berkeley Barb founder Max Scherr in 1975 about Margo St. James and the very first Hooker's Ball in San Francisco. The film is now available in DVD on Amazon. Its the third old film he has transferred this year.
The Georgia Museum of Art provided support to transfer his 1972 thesis film "Ceremony," because they wanted to use a minute or two of footage featuring the sculptures of Dewain Valentine in an exhibition of his work.
More recently, excerpted sequences from his 1970 film "Let's Get it Over With!" are featured as part of the Oakland Museum of California exhibit "
All Of Us Or None: Social Justice Posters of the San Francisco Bay Area
", which opened on March 31 and will run through August 19.
The sequences were filmed during May 1970 at the poster workshops at UC Berkeley's Wurster Hall. The clips are looped and will run continuously whenever the exhibition is open.
With the help of producer Ellen Kutten, we're in the middle of restoring and putting out a DVD of his 1977 ballet film "Tealia." This should be out by early summer.
Last but not least, Zala Films published it's first book in 2011. "
Almost a Soldier: The 1945 Diary of a Hungarian Cadet
" by Sigmund Csicsery. George's brother, he translated the book from the Hungarian original, and worked with a great book designer, copy editor, and map-maker to put out an invaluable piece of World War II history.
Posted on Apr 25, 2012 - 06:48 PM