Thursday, February 7, 2013


GE Focus Forward presented the ultimate challenge to filmmakers this past year:  Create a 3-minute documentary about innovative people attempting to make this world a better place.  The winner would receive $100,000 and a chance to showcase their film at the  preeminent film festival, Sundance.  With more than 600 films being submitted, the list was quickly shortened to the top 20 finalists.  After viewing all the finalists myself, I knew “The Artificial Leaf” had a very good chance of winning. 

Jared P. Scott and Kelly Nyks
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with Jared P. Scott and Kelly Nyks, filmmakers of “The Artificial Leaf,” just a few hours before they would hear the announcement of the winners of this competition.  Currently, the two young filmmakers are partners in PF PICTURES, “a boutique independent film studio.”  This company “is committed to unique stories by idiosyncratic storytellers that inspire those who view them to think differently about the world we share.”  Both filmmakers have written, directed and produced several feature documentaries as well as films including “Split: A Divided America,” and “Split: A Deeper Divide” which both focused on the United States’ political bifurcation.  But their zeal didn’t stop with politics.  It continued on to the environment.  In fact, during our interview they frequently stated that the crisis we are in is not an environmental crisis, but more of a civilization crisis.  Ecology, economics, and politics all overlap as everything is interconnected.
Dan Nocera
How did two young documentary filmmakers find a scientist to be the inspiration for their 3-minute documentary to better our world?  While attending THE ARPA-e conference in Washington, DC, Scott learned about Dan Nocera, a researcher at Harvard who was working on a project called The Artificial Leaf.  “Dan Nocera has a simple formula to save the planet: sun + water = energy for the world.”  Taking the information learned from nature, Nocera “has developed an artificial leaf with a self-healing catalyst that can power the Earth inexpensively by using sunlight to split water and store energy in the rearranged bonds of hydrogen and oxygen.”  That’s all Scott needed to hear as he immediately began working on PF Pictures’ next documentary, “The Artificial Leaf.”  

Scott and Nyks spent many hours with Nocera, including time in his lab, to learn about his work and theories.  The filmmaker’s job then became how to write a clear script and put it all into visual form while making it educational, relevant, accurate and only 3 minutes.  This could be a daunting challenge, but the team executed this perfectly.  Although they expressed that it was a bit difficult to continually edit the film, they were adept at cutting the extraneous information. Yet in the end, they left you wanting to gain more knowledge about this possible clean energy source. Spurring on more conversation about a problem was one of their goals: goal accomplished. 

Scott and Nyks, although different with their individual passions, have a common thread that will continue to produce quality, informative and beautiful documentaries.  They want their films to be a “catalyst for discussion.”  “The Artificial Leaf” does just that.  Their knowledge base of the environment, economics, and politics and how they all relate not just in the United States, but in the world was more than impressive.  For me, itwas mind-boggling and a bit intimidating, yet exciting to hear all that could be a possibility for our future.  As Nyks stated, human innovation seems to only happen when our “backs are up against the wall.”  Their concern, as with many other environmentalists, is that our “business as usual is going to kill us.”  Education and human innovation is the key to survival.  Realizing what the true cost of our current system actually is, should be the catalyst for change.  Other possibilities for energy are not only needed, but are crucial to our continued existence.  

Our interview about “The Artificial Leaf” drifted into a conversation about numerous aspects of filmmaking and the world’s many interconnected pieces.  Their excitement to communicate their knowledge and truly make this world a better place was infectious.  As a person who is somewhat educated about the environment, I felt that I could do even more than I had been.  As Nyks pointed out to me, we, as consumers, really can do so much more.  How aware are we when we purchase products from various companies?  It’s awareness that makes a difference in the decisions that we make.  Politics are affected by the consumers who buy certain products.  70% of consumers can help make decisions on what big companies do.  For example, if a company produces a “green” product, you can choose to buy that one.  If more consumers are aware of what companies are doing, we can support those that have similar views.  That, in turn, influences economics, politics, the environment, and quite possibly our future.

Morgan Spurlock

Time flew by too quickly as there was still so much more to discuss, but before we parted, I wished them luck, knowing they would be in the top portion of the winner’s circle.  Not surprisingly, filmmakers Jared P. Scott and Kelly Nyks’ creative and cohesive communication about Dan Nocera’s innovative environmental technology earned them an impressive second place.  Scott and Nyks shared their reactions to their win a couple days later.  Scott stated, “Being in the company of some of the greatest documentary filmmakers out there - Alex Gibney, Morgan Sprulock, Albert Maysles, Lucy Walker, Ross Kauffman, Steve James- it was simply an honor to screen alongside their films in the Focus Forward series on world-changing innovation.”  Nyks continued on by stating, “To see the film win, premiere at Sundance and continue on playing festivals worldwide is a tremendous privilege.  It is our sincere hope that by having others see these films about world-changing innovations they might be inspired in turn so we might be able to work together to make a better place for us all.”  To me, this is filmmaking at its best.

What’s next for “The Artificial Leaf?”  Tribeca Film Festival, of course, among many others including the International Documentary Festival of Amersterdam (IDFA).  More information about PF Pictures can be found at  “The Artificial Leaf” along with other finalists and winners of the GE Focus Forward Filmmakers Competition can be found at
To see “The Artificial Leaf” directly, click on the link:

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