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Howard Hughes Medical Institute Makes Move into Science Documentary Arena

Michael Rosenfeld Headshot - P 2012
Courtesy of Murphy PR

Dubbed Tangled Bank Studios, the new film and media production company will debut with a pair of documentaries for PBS.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is moving into the science documentary arena. The nonprofit, which is one of the nation’s largest philanthropies, is launching Tangled Bank Studios, a new film and media production company that aims to be a significant contributor of science documentaries.

The offshoot -- headed by Emmy-winning producer, writer and TV executive Michael Rosenfeld -- will produce programs that span all branches of science for the small screen and big screen as well as digital media. HHMI also announced Tangled Bank's debut slate of programming, which is being developed and produced in collaboration with PBS and includes:

- Your Inner Fish, a scientific adventure story based on the best-selling book by paleontologist and anatomist Neil Shubin. It takes the viewer from Kenya to the Arctic Circle to uncover the 3.5 billion year history of the human body and how ancient ancestors shaped human anatomy. This three-part series is being produced in collaboration with U.K. production company Windfall Films.

- The Quest to Map the World, a three-part series that tells the epic story of the scientists and explorers who risked their lives to map the planet. The series is produced in conjunction with National Geographic Television.

PBS will air the programming in the United States. Off the Fence, an independent distribution company based in Amsterdam, will distribute the documentaries internationally.

"The scientific mysteries explored in these initial Tangled Bank productions possess drama that is sure to be universally appealing," Rosenfeld said. "Our goal at Tangled Bank Studios is to capture the adventure and excitement of science and share that with mass audiences via great entertainment anchored by great science."

The move to create Tangled Bank is part of HHMI’s $60 million TV and film production initiative, which was announced last year. HHMI is the largest private supporter of science education in the United States. Footage from every Tangled Bank film or series will also be used to create short films for the classroom for HHMI's educational media program.

Producer David Elisco will serve as Tangled Bank's director of development. The film initiative falls under the purview of noted evolutionary biologist Sean B. Carroll, vice president for science education at HHMI. Each Tangled Bank production will have an independent advisory board of scientists and experts to review program content.

Tangled Bank draws its name from the final paragraph of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and reflects the company’s goal to marry a deeper understanding of science with a sense of wonder about the natural world.