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HHMI Names Michael Rosenfeld to Lead New Documentary Initiative

Summary

Award-winning documentary producer and former president of National Geographic Television will lead HHMI's $60 million science documentary initiative.

Michael RosenfeldMichael Rosenfeld, an award-winning documentary producer and former president of National Geographic Television, will lead the $60 million science documentary initiative announced earlier this year by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

"With Michael Rosenfeld at the helm, this initiative will significantly extend HHMI's science education outreach to the global television audience--certainly on more screens with higher entertainment values – and at a level of quality that's on par with our program in scientific research," said HHMI President Robert Tjian.

Rosenfeld will join HHMI in July as head of television and film. The program will be based at HHMI's headquarters campus in Chevy Chase, Md.

"Michael is a visionary and creative filmmaker and a highly regarded broadcast executive," said Sean Carroll, HHMI's vice president for science education. "I look forward to working with him to identify compelling stories about discovery and to collaborate in the creation of first-rate, inspiring television programs and theatrical films."

Rosenfeld, 55, had been associated with National Geographic for more than two decades as a supervising writer, producer, executive producer and production company president. As president of National Geographic Television, Rosenfeld oversaw the production of more than 130 hours of television documentary programming a year that aired on National Geographic Channel, PBS, and worldwide. He was responsible for reorganizing NGT, expanding its production offices, and creating a digital production studio to produce short-form documentaries. He won or led teams that won almost 40 News and Documentary Emmy Awards.

With Michael Rosenfeld at the helm, this initiative will significantly extend HHMI’s science education outreach to the global television audience.

Robert Tjian

"Films can make a difference in the way people see the world by taking them to the frontiers of knowledge and exploration. I'm excited to be joining HHMI, which is all about pushing the limits of discovery and sharing that enthusiasm with the public," said Rosenfeld. "This new role will give me a phenomenal opportunity to produce great documentaries about science in partnership with broadcasters and filmmakers around the world."

Earlier in his career at National Geographic, Rosenfeld was executive vice president for programming and production for NGT (2004-2006) and also senior executive producer for NGT (1998-2005), when he was directly responsible for the flagship series National Geographic Specials on PBS as well as event specials for the National Geographic Channels.

Rosenfeld was also series producer for National Geographic Explorer from 1988-1993, responsible for the editorial content and day-to-day operations of the highly regarded series, and then became the executive producer in 1993. Rosenfeld is a graduate of Haverford College in Pennsylvania and completed one semester at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism before joining WNET/13 in New York as an associate producer.

"I am comfortable in finding that meeting place between substance and entertainment, between mission and ratings," said Rosenfeld. "This can be a hard balance to strike, but the projects of which I am proudest succeeded in making complicated science clear, entertaining, and fun."

As examples of programs that achieved that balance, Rosenfeld highlighted three documentaries in which he played a leadership role: "Strange Days on Planet Earth," a major series about conservation science hosted by actor Edward Norton that brought together a cast of international, government, and non-profit partners; "The Human Family Tree," which personalized the field of population genetics by bringing it home to ordinary people; and "Six Degrees Could Change the World," which marshaled the latest climate science to explore the impact of global warming one degree at a time.

HHMI is known for its support of cutting edge research in biomedicine, and the new documentary initiative will draw on that expertise while also going beyond it. In addition to biology, the films will cover the entire spectrum of science, from astronomy to paleontology.

"My goal will be to find projects that can have an impact on the way people think about science and the world they live in," said Rosenfeld. "We will develop our own ideas, but will also look for proposals from broadcasters, producers, and filmmakers who share our excitement about doing great science television."

The documentary film initiative also includes a major educational component. The subjects will be chosen based on their potential to become a compelling story, but HHMI staff—primarily its Educational Resources Group—will work hand-in-hand with the documentary team to repackage the film footage into materials that can be used by teachers and students at both the high school and college level.

"Good science films capture the passion of discovery," said Rosenfeld. "At their best, they give viewers a vicarious sense of what it is like to be a scientist and to be on an adventure. Through film we can help people imagine—in a vivid way—what it would be like to make a discovery themselves."

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays a powerful role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research. For more information, visit www.hhmi.org

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Jim Keeley
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