This coming April, you can watch three of the most critically acclaimed films in recent memory, all for free and on Penn's campus.

The Penn Bioethics Film Festival will return for its second year to the International House Theater from April 4–6. Avatar, Her and Ex Machina will be screened over the three days. Following each screening, speakers from Penn and other institutions will discuss the film and its relation to the festival’s theme, “Almost Human?”

Each film was chosen for its exploration of bioethics and its particular resonance with this year's theme. Jonathan Moreno, a professor of medical ethics and health policy at Penn and one of the festival's organizers, describes the reasoning behind this year's picks: Avatar is “image-oriented,” Her is about “our relationship to our operating systems,” and Ex Machina “brings in the engineering angle, the physical object.” Avatar is the image, Her is the software, and Ex Machina is the hardware.

Moreno himself is a self–described film buff, and he made it clear these films were also chosen for their cinematic quality in addition to their relevance to bioethics. Avatar challenged our notions of what it means to be an actor with its completely CGI (yet human) performers. Her and Ex Machina showed a clear feminist bent, with the male characters in both films being subject to the mechanical sophistication of the female characters.

This year's speakers were also chosen for their combined cinematic, philosophical and bioethical expertise. They are “people who have written from a cinema studies, historical standpoint, and people who have written from a philosophical standpoint,” Moreno says.

Scott Ross, the CEO of virtual reality startup Virtuosity, will join Moreno to discuss the screening of Avatar. Ross has an invaluable insight into the film, having founded Digital Domain, one of the most influential digital production studios, with Stan Winston and James Cameron. He is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

Andrew Light of George Mason University and Christopher Donovan, a professor in Penn’s Cinema Studies department, will discuss Her. Lance Wahlert, program director of the Master of Bioethics (MBE) in the Perelman School of Medicine, and Beth Linker, a professor of history and sociology of science at Penn, will discuss Ex Machina.

Moreno hopes the festival will showcase Penn’s prominence in the fields of bioethics, bioengineering and philosophy of science.

“I want to highlight the fact that we have the strongest bioethics community in the country, and the best. I don’t think there’s any academic field that’s as represented in film as bioethics,” he explains.

With free screenings of quality films, free food and free discussions with academic and practical experts, the 2017 Penn Bioethics Film Festival is well worth your time.


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