Filmmakers Clayton Brown and Monica Ross make documentaries about contemporary science, but about three years ago, they decided to explore what Brown calls “America’s troubled, strange, confusing relationship with science.”
One idea was climate change. The other, Brown said, was evolution. “The story of evolution denial and creation science is one that largely hasn’t been told,” he said by phone from Chicago, where their company, 137 Films, is based. “As we circulated through our various scientific networks, we found a lot of scientists don’t fully grasp the extent to which the American public resists evolution.”
So where better to start than Grant County, where Australian creationist Ken Ham was in the process of raising a purported $100 million to build a 500-foot-tall wood replica of the Noah’s Ark described in the Bible. It also has lots of dinosaurs, which Ham contends lived alongside humans at the time.
For three years, Brown and Ross followed the construction of Ark Encounter, which opened this past summer, and the result, “We Believe in Dinosaurs,” is in the final stages.
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The filmmakers have started an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for finishing the project. That put them in touch with Morgan Spurlock, the creator of “Super Size Me,” a documentary about eating only McDonald’s food for 30 days. He’s now signed on as a producer, which will raise the documentary’s profile.
The film focuses on three people: an artist named Doug Henderson, who creates the dinosaurs and the other elaborate exhibits in the Ark that attempt to explain how a literal interpretation of the Bible’s story of creation is scientifically plausible; David MacMillan, a former creationist who no longer believes in those explanations; and Dan Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, who has been an ardent critic of Ark Encounter, its sister Creation Museum, and the public tax dollars that have helped support them. (Phelps is fond of calling Ham the “Ayatollah of Appalachia.”)
After a lengthy court battle, Ark Encounter emerged with $18 million in tax breaks and $11 million from state government for an expanded exit off Interstate 75, along with local property tax breaks from Grant County and Williamstown.
Both Clayton and Ross — whose past works explored the Higgs boson particle and the search for “cold fusion” — emphasized that the film does not mock Ark Encounter supporters as much as try to understand their point of view from a secular mainstream perspective.
“They welcomed us with open arms,” Brown said. “We developed some good relationships with people there; they really want the world to hear about what they believe.”
Ross said the bigger surprise was how little comment they were able to find from the scientific world. That leaves a void for creation science to fill, she said.
The former creationist featured in the movie, MacMillan, “has some really fascinating insights into how the process works,” Ross said. “The average lay person doesn’t have a strong grasp on science, and as he said, creationism comes in and fills those gaps with easy, compelling answers.”
Both the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, which are operated by a company called Answers in Genesis, lay out a 6,000-year-old Earth, where dinosaurs co-existed with humans. In a statement, Ham expressed concerns that the film would not be fair.
“The filmmakers’ recent public comments have revealed that they were not telling the truth when they insisted that AiG would be portrayed in a fair and accurate manner,” Ham said. “Therefore we don’t expect their finished film to feature the straightforward reporting on the Ark and Creation Museum that we were assured we would receive. It looks like their film will be more of a mock-umentary than a documentary.”
The filmmakers hope to raise about $50,000 to cover the editing and post-production costs so they can get the final product out by summer. They have high hopes that it will be distributed widely. Their first film, “The Atom Smashers,” was shown on PBS, and the second, “The Believers,” is streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu.
“At the end of the day, we want everyone to see the film,” Brown said. “We’re not trying to do a gotcha.”