Popular Science Films

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Popular Science Films


science films of different genres intended for the general public.

The popular science film describes, in an easily understandable form, the basic principles and the history of the natural sciences and the humanities. It fosters a scientific world outlook and disseminates the achievements of science and technology in order to facilitate their practical application. The popular science film deals with scientific research, the lives and work of scientists, and the significance of various scientific discoveries for mankind.

Depending on their subject and purpose, science films make use of different methods of presentation. Three genres of science film have arisen, namely, popular science, journalistic science, and feature science films. Of these three, popular science films are the best known and most widely made. They were first made in France and Germany in 1897, but until the 1920’s were produced on an irregular basis.

In prerevolutionary Russia, the popular science film arose as a result of the initiative of a group of Moscow scientists who in 1911 set up a science division at A. A. Khanzhonkov’s movie studio, where they produced several short films. In 1920, after the Great October Socialist Revolution, educational, industrial, and popular science films concerning the origin of peat and methods of peat recovery (including the hydraulic extraction of peat) were made on the initiative of V. I. Lenin. Lenin called for the maximum possible use of public film lectures dealing with various problems of science and technology (see the collection The Most Important Art of All, 1963, p. 125).

In the 1920’s, popular science films, called culture films (kul’turfil’my), dealing with science, technology, culture, and art, were made at most film studios in the USSR. The 1920’s and 1930’s were also marked by new themes and genres of the popular science film. For example, V. I. Pudovkin’s The Mechanics ofthe Brain (1926) gave rise to the film lecture. V. A. Shneiderov’s The Great Migration (1925) and Al-Yemen (1930) and A. A. Litvinov’s Forest People (1928) were the first popular science films on geography and ethnography. Films dealing with new subject matter appeared, including films about animals, such as In the Depths of the Sea (1938; directed by A. M. Zguridi and B. G. Dolin); films about literature and art, for example, Pushkin’s Manuscripts (1937; directed by S. I. Vladimirskii and A. N. Egorov) and The Tret’iakov State Gallery (1939; directed by V. N. Nikolai); and films about insects, which included The Instincts of Insects (1939; directed by A. V. Vinnitskii).

In the early postwar years and the 1950’s, popular science films became increasingly widespread and variegated. Popular science film-making spread to Soviet Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Byelorussia, Estonia, and Latvia. The narrative genre of the popular science film, which included film essays and film stories, came into being after the war. These films displayed a marked tendency to poeticize the subject that they were popularizing and to create feature science films that acquired independent aesthetic value. Such films included They See Again (1947; directed by N. V. Grachev), The History of One Ring (1948; directed by Dolin), The Forest Story (1949; directed by Zguridi), The Sistine Madonna (1955; directed by Ia. L. Mirimov), For the Lives of the Doomed (1957; directed by D. I. Iashin), The Road to the Stars (1957; directed by I. V. Klushantsev), The Alpha-Theta Cipher (1962; directed by V. A. Arkhangel’skii), and Mathematics and the Devil (1972; directed by S. L. Raitburt). In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, new tasks associated with the scientific and technological revolution led to the appearance of journalistic science films on trends in the development of science, the nature of scientific creativity, the integration and mutual influence of the different sciences, and the role of science as a new productive force in society. Journalistic science essays contain not only informative material but also the author’s personal attitude toward his subject. Films of this genre include Lenin’s Manuscripts (1960; directed by F. A. Tiapkin), The Fiery Spear (1962; directed by L. I. Rymarenko), Bloody Sunday (1964; directed by N. A. Levitskii), Portrait of a Surgeon (1964; directed by Grachev), Man and the Atom (1965; directed by K. I. Dombrovskii), From the Cell to the Living Organism (1966; directed by M. S. Karostin), Face to Face With Racism (1967; directed by I. A. Zinov’ev), and Intercosmos (1971; directed by D. A. Bogolepov). The film lecture genre takes the form of a conversation with its viewers, for example, the film The Language of the Animals (1967; directed by F. M. Sobolev). Children’s science films, which were first created by the director Dolin, continued to be made in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Popular science newsreels, including Nauka i tekhnika (Science and Technology), Khochu vse znat’ (I Want to Know Everything), and Sel’skoe khoziaistvo (Agriculture), appear on a regular basis.

In other socialist countries, the achievements of the popular science film have been great. Specialized film studios have been created in Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania, and Poland, and a science division has been formed at a short-film studio in Czechoslovakia.

In capitalist countries, the popular science film has long been used primarily as a means of advertising. Films produced by scientific organizations were shown only in clubs, schools, and scientific institutions. As a result of the scientific and technological revolution, the situation has changed. Producers have begun to employ prominent film directors for work on popular science films. Popular science and journalistic science films now appear more often in movie theaters and on television. They differ, however, in their ideological content; some of them instill a faith in the development of science for the benefit of humanity and affirm materialist outlooks, while others propagate openly idealist views of the world.

The popular science film is becoming an arena of sharp ideological conflict. The cinematographers in the socialist countries are therefore combining their efforts and experience in order to disseminate truly scientific knowledge in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism.


Zhdan, V. N. Voprosy masterstva v nauchno-populiarnoi kinematografii. Moscow, 1952.
Zguridi, A., and I. A. Vasil’kov. Nauchnoe kino v SSSR, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1959.
Al’tshuler, B. A., and M. D. Nechaeva. “Razvitie sovetskogo nauchno-populiarnogo fil’ma.” In Ocherki istorii sovetskogo kino, vol. 3. Moscow, 1961.
Vasil’kov, I. A. Ideia i tema v nauchno-populiarnom stsenarii i fil’me. Moscow, 1967.
Vasil’kov, I. A. Ekran i nauka. Moscow, 1967.
Vasil’kov, I. A. O soderzhanii i forme v nauchno-populiarnom stsenarii i fil’me. Moscow, 1973.
Nauchno-populiarnyifil’m, fascs. 1–2. Moscow, 1959–64. (Collection of articles.) Fasc. 3: Kino i nauka, Moscow, 1970. (Collection of articles.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Newsreels will also be shown before some of the features, in the company of other short subjects: Max fleischer cartoons featuring Betty Boop, or Popular Science films shot in retina-boggling Magnacolor.