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Forty-two years ago, FAPESP and TV Cultura produced educational programs on the sciences

Forty-two years ago, FAPESP and TV Cultura produced educational programs on the sciences

Copy of Coffee Rust , with researchers Lourival Monaco, Maria Rafaela Musumeci, Walkiria Moraes and Paulo Torres de Carvalho (from top to bottom)

An old roll of 16 mm film found in the FAPESP archives in 2010 revealed what was likely the Foundation’s first attempt at divulging science to a broad audience. After having been stored in a plastic box, the film was digitally reproduced so it could be viewed. Its subject is a 15-minute report about the pollution of rivers, and begins with some information on a clapboard. The film Live Science was produced on December 1, 1970 and begins with an off-camera narrator presenting what should have been the first of a series of reports on scientific topics. Then FAPESP Board of Trustees chairman, Antônio  Barros de Ulhoa Cintra, appears in the beginning of the film and explains, in a 47-second statement: “FAPESP has decided to sponsor a series of programs about science and its applications”  (see full text below).

As it had been suggested that a number of films could be produced, Pesquisa FAPESP magazine asked that TV Cultura search through its archives for other programs. The network came up with only one other program, a 19-minute film about the rust blight that affects coffee trees. Again, the only record of this find is the production date written on the clapboard: April 19, 1971.  According to TV Cultura employees who assisted in the searches, there are no records or logs that  provide more information. “For some reason unbeknownst to us, these programs were probably never aired,” says Mario Fanucchi, the station’s production coordinator at the time.

FAPESP documents reveal that discussions about an educational series on the sciences began in early 1970. Towards the middle of that same year, the FAPESP Board of Directors signed an agreement with the Padre Anchieta Foundation that runs TV Cultura to begin work on the first program. Mario Fanucchi’s correspondence with scientific director Oscar Sala refers to four objectives that had been previously discussed with the zoologist Paulo Vanzolini, then advisor to Ulhoa Cintra: “give the public an understanding of scientific research and its implications for our time; show the anonymous researcher and his human qualities; encourage interest in scientific research as a profession; and stimulate those in the beginning of their research career.”

Vanzolini was given the task of soliciting the Foundation’s help in financing the production, and remembers that “the programs were all Oscar Sala’s doing. I took part in the talks and the project stayed in my name because he wanted it that way.” Vanzoni does not know whether the programs were ever aired or why the series was eventually discontinued.

The researchers who participated in the filming praise the initiative. The principal interviewee in the first film was Samuel Murgel Branco, a biologist from the University of São Paulo’s School of Public Health (FSP) who died in 2003. “I remember how pleased he was with the reporting,” recalls Frida Fischer, then intern and now full professor at the School of Public Health, “and he remarked to me that a larger public would now become more familiar with topics related to ecology, environmental pollution and other technical matters, thanks to this information they see on television.”

The topic for the second program was agriculture. “There was  concern about the coffee blight and we explained what it was all about,” recalls Lourival Monaco, then a researcher at the Campinas Institute of Agronomy (IAC).  “It was a very interesting educational effort concerning an issue that involves knowledge of science,” explains   Walkiria B. de Camargo Moraes, who has enjoyed a long career at the Biology Institute of São Paulo.

Forty-two years later, both films Ferrugem do Café and Poluição das Águas can be viewed on the Pesquisa FAPESP website.

Ulhoa Cintra
“FAPESP has decided to sponsor a series of programs about science and its applications. It is a known fact that science and its practical applications play a preponderant role in the progress and development of humanity’s current well being. However, we have emphasized the educational role of science together with its ethical dimension. The Foundation hopes that by implementing these programs, inasmuch as they contribute to the advancement of science, it will be able to strengthen itself in a way that contributes to its own development and support of its essential mission.”