Student Filmmakers Win Awards For Bioresearch Documentaries

This LabTV video profile Gold Medal award winner was produced by Yoonji Kim. Jason Torres is a researcher in the lab of Dr. Nancy Cox at the University of Chicago.

Two University of Chicago undergraduates have won awards for their short video documentaries on graduate students or post-doctoral fellows working in University bioscience laboratories.

  • Yoonji Kim, a second year biology/pre-medical student won a Gold Medal award for her profile of Jason Torres, who studies the genetics of Mexican Americans with type-2 diabetes. Torres is a graduate student in the laboratory of Nancy Cox, PhD, professor of medicine and section chief of genetic medicine.
  • Dove Barbanel, a fourth-year political science major, with a minor in creative writing, won a Semi-Finalist award for his profile of Vanessa Leone, PhD, a post-doctoral scholar studying the interactions between the gut microbiota, metabolism and obesity in the laboratory. She works with Eugene Chang, MD, professor of medicine and associate section chief for research.

Both awards were announced at the Tribeca Film Festival, April 25, in New York City.

The project is supported by LabTV, the first web-based video channel designed to showcase “real-life young scientists who can inspire the best and the brightest of each generation to enter the world of medical research.”

LabTV’s mission is to use video profiles to attract young people, especially women and minorities, to the field of biomedical research. It was created by Jay Walker, founder of Priceline and curator of TEDMED, the health and medical edition of the TED conferences. It is supported by the National Institutes of Health and Google.

Award-winning filmmaker David Hoffman leads the creative side of LabTV. He developed comprehensive guide to help novice videographers create compelling personal stories within the science-lab environment. The filmmakers, once connected to a laboratory, schedule and shoot all the interviews. They produce and edit the profiles with direction and support, as needed, from Hoffman.

This LabTV video profile semi-finalist award winner was produced by Dove Barbanel. Vanessa Leone is a researcher in lab of Dr. Eugene Chang at the University of Chicago.

“Dove was really well prepared,” said his subject, Leone. “He was personable and super-interested. That made it exciting. It was fun to reflect on how we first got interested science – that all seems so long ago – but this approach makes sense as a way to get younger students thinking about going into science.”

“It was cool to have access, to see what goes on inside a big science lab,” Barbanel said. “All the people we met were really smart and interesting, not just on science but on life in general, inside and outside the lab. Plus, with a subject like Vanessa, this was easy.”

The University of Chicago is part of the first group of universities to contribute LabTV videos. This is a valuable opportunity to highlight young talent and give exposure to the university, according to a LabTV producer, but also to be “part of a global project that aims to bolster the future of medical research.”

“Talking to Jason wasn’t really like an interview,” said Kim, the Gold Medal winner. “It was more like having a good chat. He was fun and open and engaging. And he was really genuine in his answers. Plus, this was a nice alternative to studying.”

“That Yoonji won the Gold Medal based on an interview with me is all the more impressive,” said her subject, Torres. “I’ve never been interviewed before. There was no rehearsing and we had to reshoot some of my answers. She was really patient and must be an excellent editor.”

“I think everyone in our lab was excited about this project,” Torres said. “The cause is worthwhile. Most of the kids I grew up with never considered science as a career opportunity and if you don’t see it, you can’t be it. I was glad to be a part of this.”

LabTV is looking for additional student filmmakers to create more video profiles at the University.

“This is an opportunity for students to build their portfolios and have their work showcased as part of a global project that will generate considerable buzz,” said Ben Chandler, computer resource manager for the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. The Logan Center outfitted some participating students with the tools to shoot their documentaries.

The guidelines, a production overview, technical requirements and other detailed information are available at Interested students should complete a short application at: They can email David Hoffman or Debbie Pranckitas with questions about the project.

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