The Birth of Science New Wave Cinema

Edward Shepard
Journal of Labocine
5 min readNov 7, 2016


Still from SUPERSYMMETRY, web documentary by Motherboard

French New Wave films smashed convention and reinvented the art of cinema. Today the Science New Wave is doing the same thing.

The term “new wave” is inspired by La Nouvelle Vague, the New Wave of films that transformed French cinema starting in the late 1950’s.

Before the New Wave, French cinema was stuffy in both approach and technique. But in the late 1950’s, films like The 400 Blows, Breathless, and Hiroshima, Mon Amour rejected convention and invented an improvisational, spontaneous, and personal cinematic approach.

They brought new life to French cinema and inspired filmmakers everywhere.

There is a similar new wave of science cinema emerging worldwide.

“Science film” evokes an educational movie you’d watch in a classroom or on public television. But while the universe of science cinema includes educational films, it’s also vastly larger, weirder, and more experimental.

Science New Wave films are often expressive, personal, and experimental.

The Science New Wave is both fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes it’s a chimera of the two. Sometimes it’s raw lab footage. Sometimes it’s avant-garde. Sometimes it’s animated, and sometimes it’s data-visualized.

It’s being invented by filmmakers, scientists, students, and curious amateur explorers around the world. Science New Wave films are often expressive, personal, and opinionated.

They’re shot on film, smartphones, field microscopes, DSLR’s, telescope mounts, action cameras, and drones. You watch them on screens of all sizes, or projected up on domes, or streamed in 360 degrees through VR goggles.

There are 38,000,000 videos tagged “science” on YouTube, 2,815,000 on Instagram, and 157,000 on Vimeo.

Blood Film,” abstract

The Quality of the Science New Wave

In the 1960’s, influential New Wave director Francois Truffaut said:

“The ‘New Wave’ is neither a movement, nor a school, nor a group, it’s a quality.”

For Science New Wave films, the defining quality neither scientific plot, theme, or setting. It’s the interchangeability of the titles “scientist” and “filmmaker.”

(It’s a sweet irony that Truffaut actually played a scientist in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”)

In Science New Wave films, the filmmaker is as much scientist as scientist is filmmaker.

In Science New Wave films, the filmmaker is as much scientist as scientist is filmmaker. The scientist observes and experiments; the filmmaker perceives and portrays.

Science fiction filmmaker Cidney Hue sums it up from her point of view:

“I make science fiction films to create the future I want to see in the world. My stories take place in a tomorrow where women are equal leaders in every sphere and people of color are prominent heroes and agents of change. Unlike many mainstream sci-fi films, I alway take the liberty to thoroughly research every aspect of science and technology in my stories to ground them firmly in our near future. For me, this attention to detail enriches the story beyond pure entertainment and furthers the viewer’s understanding of our prospects.” — Cidney Hue

Still from “Kepler

Many filmmakers of the French New Wave started as film critics for Cahiers du Cinéma. Likewise, many of the filmmakers of the Science New Wave started as scientists, researchers, and grad students.

Their films often feature scientists as actors and artists. For example, “The Fly Room” features modern scientists playing their historic equivalent.

As observers and information gatherers, scientists make natural filmmakers. While many are required to record lab footage for research, or use video to explain their work, many more are drawn to the creative aspects of the medium. After all, scientists are highly creative — the most innovative scientists working today rely on imagination to drive breakthroughs and make scientific connections.

10 Examples of the Science New Wave From Labocine’s Public Archive

SUPERSYMMETRY, web documentary
How to Found an Ant Colony,” inventive documentary + lab footage.
Eclipse of Taregna,” fiction
Blood Film,” abstract
Deja Vu, fiction
Into Deep Space, documentary
Spectrum, documentary + experimental short
Lamina, avant-garde
Micro Empire, experimental
Solar Sinter Project


Labocine is a new platform for extraordinary films from the science new wave. From lab footage to documentary to fiction, Labocine aspires to become one of the largest and most diverse platforms for science cinema worldwide.

On the first Tuesday of each month, Labocine releases a surgically curated issue of films connected by a theme. Issues are organized in an interactive network-viewing experience, branching out as interconnected nodes from the central theme — a phylogenetic tree of movies and ideas.

Part archive, part curated program, part experiment, Labocine challenges the way you understand, interpret, and appreciate scientific ideas.