The threat of extinction is more palpable than ever. Whether it is the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather, or species decline, most living creatures have had some brush with disaster in their lifetimes. On February 13, Museum of the Moving Image is launching Science on Screen: Extinction and Otherwise, a year-long screening series examining the struggle for species survival and life as it might be.

All selections will also be accompanied by new writing by scientists, scholars, and filmmakers that tie the films to larger themes including climate change, disasters, and responses that can perpetuate extinction or create possibilities for life in new landscapes. The commissioned essays will be published on Sloan Science & Film, the museum’s website devoted to the intersection of science and film. Authors include geographer and writer Adam Bobbette and climate researcher and science communicator Britt Wray. Through these films and essays, Extinction and Otherwise aims to draw attention to the socioeconomic, political, and ecological structures that have contributed to our unstable times.

Eiji Okada and Kyoko Kishida in Woman in the Dunes (1964), dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara (credit: Janus Films)

The series opens with two celebrated films — both presented in 35mm — that highlight how people of different backgrounds are variably impacted by disasters. In the post-apocalyptic, NYC-set drama The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959), Harry Belafonte stars as possibly the last man alive — until he encounters a white woman and man. The three must decide on the future they want to cultivate, and what from the past they can live without.

Also showing February 13 is Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes (1964), a classic of the Japanese New Wave based on the novel by Kobo Abe. This erotic romance follows an entomologist, played by Eiji Okada, who becomes trapped at the bottom of a sand dune with a young widow — endlessly shoveling to stave off annihilation.

Eiji Okada in Woman in the Dunes (1964), dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara (credit: Janus Films)

Organized by Associate Curator of Science and Film Sonia Epstein, the series continues monthly. Upcoming screenings include Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure (2017), Alex Garland’s Annihilation (2018), and new releases such as Liesbeth De Ceulaer’s documentary Holgut and the Anti Banality Union’s Earth II.

Science on Screen: Extinction and Otherwise is made possible with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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A still from the documentary Holgut (2021) by Liesbeth De Ceulaer (credit: filmmaker)