The Art and Science of Cinema

The Art and Science of Cinema

Join Academy Award-winning director Chloé Zhao in conversation with BAFTA-winning editor Mary Sweeney and neuroscientist Jonas Kaplan.

Join Academy Award-winning director Chloé Zhao in conversation with BAFTA-winning editor Mary Sweeney and neuroscientist Jonas Kaplan as they explore the shared motivations and creative processes of artists and scientists. The evening will be a conversation about filmmaking skills, Zhao’s inventive blend of documentary and narrative forms, dreams and storytelling, and the parallel inquiry that filmmakers and neuroscientists undertake into the nature of perception and reality.

Chloé Zhao is a Chinese writer, director, editor, and producer. Her feature debut Songs My Brothers Taught Me, premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Her second feature The Rider, premiered at Directors Fortnight at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and was awarded the Art Cinema Award. Her most recent film Nomadland, premiered at the 2020 Venice Film Festival and was awarded the Golden Lion. The film and Zhao also earned the industry's highest acclaims including Golden Globe®, BAFTA, DGA, PGA awards and three Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Picture. Zhao cowrote and directed Marvel Studios’ Eternals, which was released in November 2021.

Jonas Kaplan, PhD is a cognitive neuroscientist whose research investigates the mysteries of human consciousness. His work has explored issues related to the nature of the self, how we empathize and resonate with others, the neural systems that support imagination and storytelling, and how the brain defends our most cherished beliefs and values. Dr. Kaplan is an Associate Professor of Research at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute and is the Co-Director of the Dornsife Neuroimaging Center. He is the author of over fifty scientific publications, and his research has been covered by CNN, Newsweek, Scientific American, and the Washington Post. He recently cocreated the podcast FLOAT with filmmaker Mary Sweeney, which explores the common creative drive shared by artists and scientists. 

Filmmaker Mary Sweeney collaborated with David Lynch as his producer, writer, and editor for twenty years. She edited Twin Peaks, Fire Walk with Me, Lost Highway, The Straight Story, and Mulholland Drive, for which she was awarded the BAFTA for Best Editing. Sweeney wrote, produced, and edited The Straight Story earning Richard Farnsworth an Oscar nomination. She’s been a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and BAFTA since 2001. Sweeney coproduces and hosts the podcast FLOAT with neuroscientist Dr. Jonas Kaplan, exploring the creative nexus of art and science. Sweeney is the Dino & Martha De Laurentiis Professor of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. She’s Chair of the Film Independent Board of Directors and was a cofounder and Board Vice President of the Desert X Art Biennial. She’s a Film Expert for the American Film Showcase and Global Media Makers State Department grant programs, and a Fulbright Specialist, travelling to Jordan, Kazakhstan, Laos, Myanmar, Egypt, and India to mentor filmmakers.

Chloé Zhao, Photo by Jake Sigl

This program is made possible by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Program in Public Understanding of Science and Technology.

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