'We Believe in Dinosaurs': Film Review | San Francisco Film Festival 2019

A 137 Films Production
An eye-opening but sometimes superficial doc.

This documentary focuses on a huge museum in Kentucky built to recreate Noah's Ark and debunk evolution.

An intriguing and unfortunately timely documentary, We Believe in Dinosaurs, has its world premiere at this week’s San Francisco International Film Festival. The movie focuses on the creation of a massive museum in Kentucky that is a kind of theme park version of Noah’s Ark. Of course the creators of this museum had an agenda; it is part of a program designed to verify the teachings of the Bible and debunk the theory of evolution. Although the film is frustratingly incomplete at times, it convincingly and sometimes frighteningly explores the big-business connections to fundamentalist religion.

This museum is affiliated with another very popular museum nearby, a Creation Museum that recounts more of the entire Biblical experience for true believers. The doc’s directors, Monica Long Ross and Clayton Brown, managed to secure interviews with some of the people involved with both museums, along with skeptics who protest the shoddy science that accompanies the imposing Disneyland-style exhibitions.

The film’s title refers to the ingenious and somewhat insidious attempt to link the museum’s religious manifesto with some indisputable facts of science. Since dinosaurs remain immensely popular with kids who are the target audience for these museums, the founders had to come up with a way to bring a Jurassic Park appeal to their message-mongering. So they posit that dinosaurs did exist, but they were created at the same time as all other animals (on the sixth day of creation), but the raptors and friends were destroyed in Noah’s Flood. And the geological evidence of the dinosaurs’ existence is explained away as sediment found in the rocks left after the Flood submerged Earth. This allows for audience-friendly dinosaur exhibits in these Biblical museums, along with vehement indoctrination.

We Believe in Dinosaurs captures a disturbing current in contemporary America, but it’s far from the whole story. There are a few naysayers among the film’s interview subjects — a former creationist who changed his mind and a geologist who tries to debunk the pseudo-science depicted at the museums — but the doc cries out for a few more scientific voices. The directors understandably didn’t want to overwhelm their audience with talking heads, but a few more sage voices would have been welcome.

There are disturbing scenes that show children and adults indoctrinated into spouting catchphrases to defy the scientists. For example, when scientists talk about the history of Earth, children are taught to call out, “Were you there?” In addition to sending a message, the sponsors of these museums are aiming to make money. Over a million people visited the Ark Encounter museum in its first year of operation, but the residents of Williamstown, Kentucky, who hoped to see an economic boom from tourism, were ultimately disappointed. The novelty quickly wore off, and stores that were hoping to capitalize on the tourist trade soon found themselves shuttered.

The doc incorporates intriguing details like that, but it still seems a bit too sketchy. Perhaps the directors did not feel a need to prove the case for science, but an end title reporting that 38 percent of Americans believe in creationism suggests that maybe a stronger history lesson was needed.

Directors: Monica Long Ross, Clayton Brown
Screenwriter: Monica Long Ross
Producers: Amy Ellison, Monica Long Ross, Clayton Brown
Executive producers: Phillip Cable, Paul Fisher, Dana Fisher, Keith McReady, Ericka Brandstetter, Patrick Lysaght
Director of photography-editor: Clayton Brown
Music: Kate Simko
Venue: San Francisco International Film Festival

99 minutes