NYFF51 Spotlight: Science and Art Collide in “Particle Fever”

Posted by Liv Behre on 9.16.2013


David Kaplan (right) is the star and producer of Particle Fever.

Highly acclaimed at the Sheffield Doc/Fest, where it won the Audience Award, this documentary about the most significant scientific experiment of a generation is both visually compelling and brilliantly informative. Particle Fever has the power to change your ideas about science—well, let’s say physics.

Mark Levinson (director) and David Kaplan (producer and star) follow six researchers involved in the finalization of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the fastest particle collider ever built, and the related discovery of the Higgs particle, often refered to as the “God particle”. Both Levinson and Kaplan certainly know what they're portraying: Levinson is a scientist-turned-filmmaker, and Kaplan is a professor of theoretical particle physics at Johns Hopkins University. With their combined knowledge of the subject matter and how to present it in an appealing way, Particle Fever couldn't have had better creators.

Cinematographer Claudia Raschke-Robinson beautifully captures both the pride of the CERN, in Geneva, at having built the largest machine in history, and the frustration that came with the failure of the first attempt to make the LHC work. The terrific sound and editing work by Walter Murch (double Academy Award Winner for The English Patient) transforms the documentary in a real life science thriller, continuously comparing art and science and combining the two throughout the film.


Engineers, physics and experimentalists worked hard for years to create the LHC, the biggest machine ever built. 

“Is particle physics the new rock ’n’ roll?” wonders David Gritten in his review in The Guardian. “An unlikely proposition, certainly. But judging by the reception given to two screenings in Sheffield of Particle Fever, a brilliant documentary about the teams who conceived, designed and built the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, particle physicists just may be the new rock stars.”

Even though the media largely announced the finding of the Higgs particle by the CERN in 2012, and therefore spoiled the ending for the audience, Particle Fever succeeds in exciting the viewers about the steps to get there. You’ll find yourself cheering for the results and maybe even get a little emotional staring at Peter Higgs’s (after whom the "God particle" is named) reaction to the discovery of a lifetime.

Particle Fever
Director: Mark Levinson

Section: Applied Science
Screens: September 29 at 3:45pm + October 2 at 12:00pm

NYFF Official Description:
Physicists from all over the world in search of the theoretical Higgs particle gathered together to collaborate on the planning and construction of the 18-mile long super-collider at CERN in Switzerland, which was 20 years in the making. The idea was to recreate conditions immediately after the Big Bang, allowing us to move several steps closer to an understanding of the origin of matter. Physicist-turned-filmmaker Mark Levinson was there with his cameras when the collider went online, and he found a way of approaching the experiment as an epic adventure story, involving multiple setbacks, mysteries and – according to hysterical press accounts – the possible end of the world as we know it. The final film, brilliantly edited by Walter Murch, is truly a thrill a minute.

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