A Proposal for a 80-minute Documentary on
How a Genetic Revolution is Rewriting Human Evolution
A new window has been opened on to our past. Overthrowing old assumptions about humankind, ancient DNA extracted from teeth and bones is rewriting history bit by bit. Some Kind of Human is a feature length documentary film about the DNA we—modern humans—have inherited from prehistoric human beings. It is also a story about how two fields in the midst of a technological revolution are reconciling their views of the past.
Under the direction of world renowned professor Eske Willerslev, an international team of researchers embarks on a monumental mission: To build a library of nature’s complete genetic blueprint through the history of man. As the DNA library steadily grows, the group of scientists realize that a whole new insight into the story of humankind is slowly unfolding before their eyes.
2. Brief Project Summary
A Monumental Mission. This feature-length documentary film (+80 min) invites the audience on an eye opening journey into the lives of the scientists who have made it their mission to find and unlock the black box that could conceivably rewrite history of mankind. The team of scientists are looking for answers to questions archaeologists, anthropologists and linguists have wrestled with for decades. As a technological revolution enables them to extract ancient DNA (aDNA) from human bones found by archeologists at excavation sites, stories about the past are continuously reshaped or rewritten altogether. Filmed in countries all over the world—from the research laboratories of the GeoGenetics Centre in Copenhagen, the lavish halls of the University of Cambridge, natural history museums, and the archaeological sites where bones from human beings originating from as far back as 10,000 years ago has been dug out—Some Kind of Human—is a documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the story of an unprecedented project: To build a library of nature’s complete genetic blueprint through the history of man. Under the direction of world renowned professor Eske Willerslev, the group is working against the clock to determine the complete set of genetic information of 5,000 prehistoric human beings who lived between 10,000 years ago and 1850 AD.
3. Topics Summary
Who are we and how did we get here? This project is important, timely and relevant for many reasons. Few subjects fascinate us as much as human origins. The 5,000 Genome Project addresses some of the most fundamental questions: Where do we come from? How did we get here? What DNA have we—modern humans—inherited from prehistoric human beings? Where does neurological diseases and psychiatric disorders come from? Etc. With each ancient genetic sequence, scientists learn new information about how ancient people moved around and interacted in the ancient world and about their health. In many cases, this has helped overturn theories and resolve age-old debates. In other words, the genomes of the long dead are turning up all sorts of unexpected and controversial findings, laying out bombs into the halls of established wisdom and generating facts about who we are and how we got here. Consequently, filming for the documentary film can not be postponed for too long, as sequencing of ancient bones is initiated and results are produced continuously.
The cultural and social relevance is evident: Ancient DNA has moved beyond esoteric science and into the center of everyday conversations about identity, health, culture and politics. Although it is the DNA of ancient peoples being studied, the information obtained is having an impact on the lives of living people.
Some Kind of Human revolves around a wide range of topics. However, the primary focus is on how outstanding research contributes to better world. The film is about a team of exceptional researchers within the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. Their research makes the world smarter, enables us to rethink who we are and how we are all connected, they helps us to address global challenges and benefits society. Underlying themes and topics of the film:
Rethinking the ethical principles of aDNA
The study of aDNA has helped illuminate the evolution of diseases, ancient migration patterns, the impacts of European colonization and much more. However, the new knowledge gained through the study of aDNA hasn’t come without costs and controversies — particularly regarding the ethical use of human genetic material from the past. What are the ethical issues at stake in aDNA?
Geneticists are addressing questions and time periods that archaeologists, linguists and historians have been poring over for decades. The 5,000 Genome Project is a collaboration between a wide range of professionals such as archaeologists, anthropologists, medical doctors, geologists, geneticists and bioinformaticians. Why is this interdisciplinary collaboration imperative for the success of the project? How do you ensure that this interdisciplinary cooperation can succeed?
One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. In many ways, brain disorders remain a scientific enigma, but ancient DNA analyses can provide insight into the evolutionary history of human diseases. Some Kind of Human is the story about an international team of researchers—under the direction of world renowned professor Eske Willerslev—and their relentless effort to map the genetic material of thousands of long-dead human beings. Their goal is to unlock the vault of knowledge about mental illness and thereby contributing to ground-breaking new approaches to the development of medicines and other treatments. The aim of the analyses is to glean new knowledge about brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD and schizophrenia. The research team will not stop extracting DNA from ancient bones, teeth and sediments until they reach a staggering total of 5,000 complete ancient genomes—the entire DNA code of 5,000 ancient human beings.
4. Personal Motivation
Cambridge University. When I was first introduced to the buzz surrounding Professor Willerslev and his 5,000 Ancient Humans Project, I immediately recognized the remarkable opportunity to capture a unique project at a pivotal moment in science history. It was in the summer of 2019. Organized by the Carlsberg Family, professor Willerslev was being interviewed by science journalist Lone Frank at The People's Democratic Festival on Bornholm. Producer, Jacob Levin Krogh, and I immediately decided to contact Professor Eske Willerslev to hear if our thoughts aligned with his. We were soon invited to a meeting in Eske Willerslev's office at the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen. We presented our thoughts about making a documentary. And fortunately, it took Eske Willerslev less than fifteen minutes to endorse our film project. And to our surprise, it did not take him fifteen minutes more to invite us to a 3-day workshop at Cambridge University with his team of 60 researchers. Initially, I was motivated to follow the project because of the monumental size and ambitions of a project that might rewrite big chunks of history of mankind. Willerslev and his team has established a completely new field of research within molecular biology and developed new methods that enable us to uncover information about our past that is hidden in ancient DNA. The groundbreaking research of Willerslev and his team on ancient humans addresses some of the greatest and most fundamental questions: Where do we come from? What DNA have we—modern humans—inherited from prehistoric human beings? However, during the workshop, I soon realized that the project also includes countless underlying themes and human stories of being human in this world, about friendship, passion, and outstanding talent. I am also motivated to follow Eske Willerslev as a character because of his creative process. He is a highly visionary, motivational and inspirational scientist and a great advocate for interdisciplinary research.
5. Artistic Approach
Personal Storytelling: With a dedication to powerful storytelling and a state-of-the-art visual style it is our ambition to delve into the wonder of science simultaneously embracing the poetic narrative about passionate scientists who have dedicated their lives to research. The film team has an extensive experience with film projects that see storytelling as an integral element in advancing our joint mission. With more than fifteen years of experience in producing films that achieve high levels of community education, self-efficacy and beneficial behavior change, award-winning director Simon de Tusch-Lec aims for stories that have the power to motivate and inspire. Producer Jacob Levin Krogh ensures a high production value and a process where all competences and resources come into play in the best possible way.With our experienced and acclaimed cinematographer, Benjamin Kirk, DFF we ensure a strong and present visual expression. The visual style of Some Kind of Human is characterized by cinematic techniques contributing to a high-end production value: Wide-angled tableaus. Cinematic movements using dolly grip. Evocative, lyrical and sensuous sound design. Fascinating and exclusive locations. A distinctive color grade. Straight-to-camera interviews using a mirror box for an intimate and personal style.
Link to prior work: www.movecph.com/ourwork
Intended Audience. This film caters to the wider international audience. We wish to convey the story of the film in an understandable manner (14+ audience).
7. Audience Engagement and Social Impact
Change. Documentary films can help fuel change and drive impact. Some Kind of Human operates at the intersection of the field of scientific communication and storytelling. The aim is to advance the use of film as a powerful tool to reach, engage and influence audiences. Using creative storytelling, documentary techniques and innovative artistic approaches, the documentary film will be working on making an impact. Personal stories of being human in this world, told through talent, passion, dreams and experience will enable us to produce an engaging and inspiring documentary film that leaves a lasting impression. Audience Engagement is a strategy designed to activate audiences and constituencies toward a specific goal. A scientifically literate society can demand work that meets ethical guidelines and provides meaningful insights about our past. The public has a key role to play as the taxpayers who fund a large part of scientific research and consume its findings. Together, scientists and the public can set the tone for what aDNA research becomes and how we use it to explore our shared human heritage.
On the longer run, it is our aim with this documentary film
1. to increase awareness in the field of (1) archaeology and (2) genomics
2. to convey the importance of archeology and genomics and how scientific research contributes to a positive societal change
3. to convey the research in the field in an understandable way to a large audience
4. to show how a interdisciplinary group of researchers is shaping the future of archaeology and genomics
5. to show to inspire the next generation of scientists
6. to counteract fake news
7. to attract young scientist from all over the world
8. to convey the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation between the humanities and the natural sciences
As this film will be suited for social engagement, we hope for viewers to take action after seeing our film. Potential activities could include organizational partnerships, educational guides, targeted stakeholder/community screenings, social media strategies, multi-platform activity, or social change campaigns.
8. Interactive Elements
Engagement and Reach: The project will be enhanced through multi-platform and ancillary elements. Nine short film portraits (2 min.) of the cast will be excerpted from the long documentary. This film format has proven to be ideal for sharing on social media. These personal testimonies are aimed at presenting trustworthy and relatable stories. This format is suitable for sharing from partner and sponsor's social platforms and for disseminating via partners. In addition, we wish to generate social engagement by creatively harnessing the technological innovations of Voices of Europe; a social network and mobile application. Read more, www.voicesof.eu/community.
9. Distribution Strategies
Distribution and Marketing Strategy. Film festivals are at the top of the list for jumpstarting the process of distributing the film. Film festivals are a great way to get exposure for the film, building a buzz and creating a lever for disseminating PR-stories. It’s a golden age for documentaries. This is primarily due to streaming services like Netflix. Our goal is to partner up with Netflix or a similar streaming service for the purpose of achieving a tremendous international reach. We will draw on social media to advertise the film and tease with above mentioned short films. We will use the Facebook marketing tools, enabling us to target groups in society we particularly want to reach.
Digital distribution of documentary films, through download and streaming, is rapidly becoming the standard method for distribution. We plan to release Some Kind of Human on all major digital distribution platforms (Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Pure Flix, RightNow Media, Google Play). We have budgeted for the initial cost to establish distribution these platforms. However, possible distribution contracts may be negotiated, which would offset this cost.
10. Funding to Date
Synopsis. All sources and amounts raised to date distinguished between potential sources of funding and secured amounts. Status of other sources of funding currently under consideration, whether to be applied for or pending:
Private Investment: DKK 375.000 Secured
Lundbeck Foundation: DKK. 660.000 Currently under consideration / pending
Broadcast License: In Negotiation
Total Cost of Production: 3,85 mio DKK
Working Title: Some Kind of Human
Working Subtitle: How a Genetic Revolution is Rewriting Human Evolution
Production Companies: Voices of Europe in Association with Move Copenhagen
Length: 80-90 minutes
Total Cost of Production: 3,85 mio DKK
Scheduled Release Date March 1, 2020
Filming Locations: Copenhagen, Denmark,
Los Angeles, California, USA and more.
12. Key Creative Personnel
Director: Simon de Tusch-Lec
Producer: Jacob Levin Krogh
Director of Photography: Benjamin Kirk Nielsen, DFF
Executive Producer: Jacob Levin Krogh & Simon de Tusch-Lec
Editors: Rasmus Stensgaard Madsen
13. Advisory Board
Mikkel Winther Pedersen
14. Credited Cast
Prof. Eske Willerslev
Prof. Kristian Kristiansen
Prof. Thomas Werge
Dr. Fernando Racimo
Prof. David J. Meltzer
Dr. Mikkel Winther Pedersen
Dr. José Victor Moreno Mayar
Dr. Morten Allentoft
Lasse Vinner, Ph.D.
Lasse Folkerssen, Ph.D.
Andrew Schork, Ph.D.
Prof. Eske Willerslev
Alba Refoyo Martinez
Dr. Martin Sikora
Fabrice Demeter, Ph.D.
15. Knowledge Partners
Section for Geogenetics, Globe Institute, University of Copenhagen
The Department of Historical Studies, University of Gothenburg
Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen
National Museum of Denmark
16. Network Partners
Astra, National Science Center, Denmark
Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, Aarhus University
The Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen
Anthropologist Association, Denmark
The Association of Archaeologists, Denmark
17. Production Companies
Voices of Europe & Move Copenhagen
18. About Voices of Europe
Voices of Europe is a Danish non-profit organization established to strengthen civic and democratic participation through intercultural dialogue across Europe.
Voices of Europe uses new media and documentary films to raise awareness of environmental and social issues, actively involve citizens and strengthen common values and prospects across Europe. One of three action areas is: Science communication. The mission of Voices of Europe is to present outstanding and talented researchers and to communicate and disseminate their work within the natural sciences, social sciences or humanities. False news is harmful to societies. It makes the world less informed, and it erodes trust. Voices of Europe is committed to disseminating evidence-based information and collaborating with news organizations and educational institutions to develop products, providing tools and services to counteract fake news and to disseminate science.
Prof. Eske Willerslev
Prof. Noemi Katznelson
Martin Sønderlev Christensen
Thomas Wiben Jensen
Mette Margrethe Elf
Kirstine Føge Jensen
19. About Move Copenhagen
Move Copenhagen is a creatively driven production company. Move Copenhagen advance the use of film as a powerful tool to reach, engage and influence audiences. Move Copenhagen shape stories, provide production and distribution and create strategies for outreach and engagement. With non-profit organizations, funders, businesses and social entrepreneurs, Move Copenhagen work on projects that see storytelling as an integral element in advancing our joint mission. Move Copenhagen produce and distribute documentary films and new media products used in schools, social networks, public cinemas and brought to citizens at large through our growing network.
August 2019 — February 2020
March 2010 — April 2020
May 2020 — September 2020
October 2019 — January 2021
March 2021 Premiere for the press and sponsors
April 2021 — June 2021 Dissemination of short portraits on social media (Instagram & Facebook)
May 2021 Dissemination of educational material via emu.dk
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22. Contact Information
Jacob Levin Krogh
Producer & Partner
2200 København N