GREENSBORO — Last week found Stephen van Vuuren in Seattle, showing the rough cut of his technologically groundbreaking film, “In Saturn’s Rings,” to the giant-screen industry.
On Thursday, the Greensboro filmmaker was back in town, sharing a sample of his film and its backstory at the sixth annual TEDxGreensboro forum.
The forum attracted a sold-out crowd of 300 — from as far as Charlotte and Durham — to Triad Stage, for a day of speakers and entertainers who illustrated its theme of wonder.
“We want to celebrate curiosity, explore what’s possible and the wonderment of what’s found in the unexpected,” said Richard “Skip” Moore, former president of the Weaver Foundation, who leads the volunteer group organizing the local conference.
“Questions that researchers and social scientists take on often start with, ‘I wonder if we could..,’” Moore said. “That’s what we’re exploring today.”
The goal is to build community around common issues, ideas and topics, Moore said. He hopes that the talks also inspire people to act.
The crowd heard from 14 speakers, including Mayor Nancy Vaughan, nano-medicine researcher Elizabeth Wayne, social activist and data expert Stephen Sills, physicist and cardiovascular researcher Joseph Starobin, “art and dementia” program advocate Jessica Kay Ruhle and ghost hunter Deonna Kelli Sayed.
Providing entertainment were 15-year-old Irish fiddling prodigy Haley Richardson, the Walsh Kelley School of Irish Dancing, the band Graymatter and Theatre of Movement, which performed modern dance choreographed by UNC-Greensboro’s Duane Cyrus.
Ruhle directs education and public programs at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art. She talked about the successes of its “Reflections” program, using art to engage people with dementia.
Sills, who directs UNCG’s Center for Housing and Community Studies, shared his analyses of local data to examine social issues such as housing, health and food insecurity.
“I try to find the meaning behind numbers,” Sills said.
Wayne, a post-doctoral fellow at the Carolina Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery, researches using the immune system to attack cancer.
Starobin, an associate professor at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, works to create a tiny heart monitor.
It could be used for high-risk populations who reveal no symptoms of potential heart trouble but face extreme stress, such as fitness enthusiasts, athletes in training, firefighters and military.
Sayed talked about her journey from being the wife of a United Nations diplomat to becoming an author and paranormal researcher.
“If you are willing to break apart knowledge about how we think the world works and our place in it, what might we experience?” Sayed asked. “When I was brave enough to do that, I realized that logical, good girls never do anything magical.”
Moderator Tara Sandercock posed the question: Are ghosts real?
“I do believe that there are anomalous events in the world that we can’t explain,” Sayed responded. “Is it a ghost? I don’t know. I think sometimes we need to believe in the unseen in order to make things possible in the world in which we live.”
Van Vuuren, the founder of Greensboro’s SV2 Studios, recounted parts of his journey to produce “In Saturn’s Rings,” using more than 7.5 million photographs from space.
“When people hear that, I get two questions: How? Why?” van Vuuren said.
“The ‘why’ is the easy one,” he said. “I am passionate about images from space, and I wanted to share them on the biggest screens possible. The ‘how?’ That’s the hard part.”
He described the painstaking process in which he and volunteers processed photos from space missions and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Starting May 4, his journey will culminate in the release of his 40-minute film in institutional giant-screen theaters, including IMAX and fulldome planetariums. Actor LeVar Burton narrates the film.
“Fourteen years of my life will pass by people in 40 minutes,” van Vuuren said after his talk. “It’s a strange feeling to realize how much has gone into a few minutes of screen time.”