I’m pressed for time, heading out tomorrow for a short vacation in San Francisco, but I did want to write a little bit here before leaving. Last year around now, a theme was Hollywood blockbuster films with physics/math themes, this year there seem to be none of those, instead I’m hearing about some Russian films with such themes.
This evening here at Columbia there was a showing of Ekaterina Eremenko’s Colors of Math, an exploration of the sensual nature of mathematics, pairing research mathematicians with the five senses. Part of it is available on Youtube. Eremenko went to graduate school in mathematics in Moscow, then later on to a career in modeling and TV, and in recent years has been making films (see here). Her current project is called The Discrete Charm of Geometry, trailer is here.
Somehow I’d missed until today hearing about a truly fantastic Russian film project which has been going on for years, showing no signs yet of reaching an endpoint. The topic is the life of the great Russian theoretical physicist Lev Landau, and the London Review of Books has a column by James Meek about the film here. It seems that the director, Ilya Khrzhanovsky, has been working on this for a decade, creating a huge set in Kharkov, where Landau worked during the 1930s, and doing his best to recreate the time as accurately as possible. Meek describes the shooting as follows:
For more than two years, between 2009 and 2011, hundreds of volunteers, few of them professional actors, were filmed living, sleeping, eating, gossiping, working, loving, betraying each other and being punished in character, in costume, with nothing by way of a script, on the Kharkiv set, their clothes and possessions altered, fake decade by fake decade, to represent the privileged, cloistered life of the Soviet scientific elite between 1938 and 1968.
Among those brought in to participate in all of this were well-known physicists and mathematicians Dmitry Kaledin, Nikita Nekrasov, Andrey Losev, Carlo Rovelli, David Gross, Shing-Tung Yau and Alexander Midgal.
Post-production is now going on in London, in a huge five-story building in Mayfair, financed by someone who doesn’t want to be identified. It’s unclear what will emerge from the seven hundred hours of film shot in Kharkiv, perhaps “a dozen or more movies, a TV series, and a user-directed internet narrative system.” Whatever it is, I’m very curious to see the result.