photograph by James Kegley

Rosenfeld to Lead HHMI Documentary Initiative

The former president of National Geographic Television joined the Institute in July as head of television and film.

Michael Rosenfeld will lead HHMI’s leap into documentary filmmaking. The former president of National Geographic Television joined the Institute in July as head of television and film.

HHMI’s $60 million documentary film initiative, announced in February, aims to bring high-quality, compelling science features to television. The initiative will extend the Institute’s science education outreach to a global TV viewership.

As president of National Geographic Television, Rosenfeld oversaw the production of more than 130 hours of television documentary programming a year, which aired on National Geographic Channel, PBS, and worldwide. Over two decades, he held various supervisory writing and production positions at National Geographic. He has won—or led teams that won—nearly 40 news and documentary Emmy Awards.

“Good science films capture the passion of discovery,” Rosenfeld says. “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.”

HHMI has supported television projects, including the public broadcasting series NOVA scienceNOW and science reporting on PBS NewsHour. But this is its first experience with documentary filmmaking. The HHMI film division’s priority will be to tell intriguing science stories that grab the viewer, says Sean Carroll, HHMI’s vice president for science education. They will cover all areas of science, especially biology and medicine, but will go beyond the work of HHMI’s own researchers.

HHMI’s educational resources group and others will work with the documentary team to repackage the film footage into materials for teachers and students at the high school and college levels.

“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,” Rosenfeld says. “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.”

Rosenfeld is the second Michael Rosenfeld to join HHMI. Michael G. Rosenfeld, known to his friends as Geoff, is an HHMI investigator at University of California, San Diego, who studies transcription and cell signaling.