May 3, 2006

“Flock of Dodos” film brings humor to evolution row

By Joseph A. Giannone

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The biologist in Randy Olson cringed
at news reports of evangelical Christians challenging the
teaching of evolution to schoolchildren in places such as
Kansas on the grounds it was just a theory.

But the filmmaker in him feels just as strongly that
scientists have done a lousy job explaining their side of the

The result is "Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent
Design Circus," a humorous and entertaining documentary that
premiered at New York's Tribeca Film Festival this week.

The film shines a spotlight on "intelligent design," a
school of thought that says many of the seemingly miraculous
and complex elements of nature must be the work of an
intelligent designer -- namely God.

The controversy is raging in America as intelligent design
proponents face off in court with scientists who say evolution
is supported by fossils and other evidence. So far, courts have
struck down teaching intelligent design in science classrooms
as a violation of the wall between church and state.

But Olson said scientists had squandered a winning hand
through their inability or refusal to engage in the debate. He
wants to show filmgoers there's little scientific challenge to
evolution, yet he also wants to entertain them.

"First and foremost, film is an entertainment medium," said
Olson, who left academia 15 years ago and has produced films
for the past four years.

Olson, who has evolved from Harvard man to Hollywood
director, was determined to make sure his film would not be a
dry-as-dust documentary.


"Flock" injects interviews with Olson's 82-year-old mother,
Muffy "Moose" Olson, for comic relief and the neutral voice of
the layperson, between serious interviews with evolutionist
scientists, advocates of intelligent design and school board
members in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Kansas
-- which also just happens to be Olson's home state.

Perhaps the brightest moments of the film come as Olson
invites his academic pals to a poker game, recording an
unscripted and at times tense round-table discussion among
Ph.D-wielding scientists expressing frustration at the growing
popularity of intelligent design.

Olson also shared his press briefing platform in New York
with three actors in bright orange dodo costumes, modeled after
cartoons that bridge different scenes of the movie.

Olson gives the intelligent design advocates plenty of
airtime but the film exposes what Olson sees as the fallacies
of best-selling authors who provide the intellectual firepower
of the intelligent design movement.

He balances his critique of academics -- too rigid and
arrogant -- with a calm, orderly attack on the arguments
backing intelligent design.

Ultimately "Flock," which does not yet have a distributor,
hopes to appeal well beyond college campuses. The biggest
challenge was making his points without overloading audiences
to the point of boredom, he said.

"The more information, the narrower the audience," Olson