'Bill Nye: Science Guy': Film Review | SXSW 2017

A revealing documentary about the influential PBS personality.

This doc that screened at SXSW is an engaging portrait of the man behind the lab coat.

No more Mr. Nice Science Guy?

With his beloved PBS series having officially wrapped back in 1998 (although still playing in perpetuity on TV and classrooms everywhere), Bill Nye finds himself at a career crossroads.

While his trademark bow tie is still very much intact, his struggle to be taken seriously as a passionate advocate for the environment, facing off against dismissive climate change deniers and the anti-science movement, is intimately chronicled in the documentary Bill Nye: Science Guy, which had its world premiere at South by Southwest.

Wherever he travels, Nye, now 61, is greeted by a barrage of delighted, selfie-taking millennials who grew up with his show, which combined his loves of science and wacky comedy.

But he’s finding that his approachably light-weight reputation can be a bit of a hindrance when attempting to sound the alarm on serious real-world issues.

Although Nye has the support of many in the scientific community, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, who endorsed him as CEO of the Carl Sagan-co-founded The Planetary Society, others, such as weather forecaster and global-warming contrarian Joe Bastardi, question the legitimacy of an “actor playing a scientist on TV.”

Then there’s creationist-entrepreneur Ken Ham, who was able to turn publicity generated from a 2014 debate with Nye into a substantial fundraiser for his anti-science Ark Encounter theme park.

Co-directors David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg, who had previously brought their anti-aging documentary, The Immortalists, to SXSW in 2014, effectively chart their affable subject’s trek from mechanical engineer to renowned Science Guy to passionate defender of the planet.

Nye's openness extends to a clear-eyed examination of his personal life — one which has often taken a back seat to his career pursuits, impacting his ability to sustain meaningful relationships.

Also very much on Nye’s mind is Ataxia, a genetic disease of the nervous system affecting fine motor control that has been passed down by his father to his two siblings but, in his case, has so far not shown signs of progression.

The 2013 Dancing With the Stars contestant may be in the process of attempting to bulk up his professional persona, but watching the expression on his face change from concern to goofy enthusiasm during a recent successful test launch of Sagan’s dream project, the solar-powered LightSail spacecraft, it’s unlikely he'll be going anywhere soon.

Production companies: Complex Corporation, Exhibit A
Cast: Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson
Directors: David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg
Producers: Seth Gordon, Nick Pampenella, David Alvarado, Kate McLean, Jason Sussberg
Executive producers: Mary Rohlich, Henry S. Rosenthal, Walker Deibel, Chad Troutwine
Cinematography: David Alvarado
Editor: Annukka Lilja
Composer: William Ryan Fitch
Venue: South by Southwest (Documentary Spotlight)
Sales: Liesl Copland, WME

101 minutes