Hot Docs 2017: Bill Nye: Science Guy
Bill Nye: Science Guy opens with a quote from Carl Sagan comparing the imperfect nature of science to democracy. If that doesn’t tip you off as to why directors David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg felt driven to make this Kickstarter-funded documentary at this point in history, there will be no doubt over the hundred minutes that follow. The film is a political call to action framed as a profile of a deceptively complex pop culture figure.
After a brief recap of Bill Nye the Science Guy's journey from Portland-based kids’ show to classroom staple, Alvarado and Sussberg shift into the thrust of their film. They set out to capture a phase of Nye's life spent struggling with the transition from a children’s entertainer who inspires nostalgia in Millennials to a serious activist in the scientific community. His campaign to open up discussion about climate change becomes the focus and driving force of the documentary,
The greatest strength of Bill Nye: Science Guy is the even-handedness with which it treats its subject. While Nye is certainly the hero here, Alvarado and Sussberg don’t shy away from shining a light on his flaws. A brief detour explores what Nye self-diagnoses as survivor’s guilt as the only member of his family unaffected by a neurological disorder. He confesses a lifelong motivation to be famous that hasn’t always served his best interests. Perhaps most importantly, the documentary explores the question of whether Nye's willingness to debate creationists and climate contrarians does anything other than legitimatize their anti-science platforms.
Bill Nye: Science Guy likely won’t change how you view the man himself, and its social messages are almost certainly preaching to the converted. As a documentary, it’s a tad overlong and unfocused. However, as an unflinchingly personal look at a figure who rarely gets personal, it can be enlightening and even touching. Little moments like Nye sighing about “selfie fatigue” after greeting a hoard of college students let us meet a Science Guy we’ve never known: a man who refuses to let personal self-doubt hinder his unflappable global convictions.