The Australian-made science documentary Immortal directed by Sonya Pemberton and shot by her husband and Director of Photography – Harry Panagiotidis, has won a coveted Emmy Award this month in New York.
The Emmy – for Outstanding Science and Technology Programming – was the latest of many accolades for the film, which took five years to make and follows the work of distinguished Australian scientist Professor Elizabeth Blackburn.
In 2009, Professor Blackburn’s discovery of an ‘immortalising’ enzyme deep in the DNA of a single-celled pond creature, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. On a modest budget of half-a-million dollars, the documentary – a co-production between December Media, Smithsonian Networks, SBS and National Geographic International – first aired on SBS in 2010 as Immortal but was retitled Decoding Immortality for the US.
At the Emmy Awards it was the rank-outsider, up against big budget programs featuring the likes of Morgan Freeman and Stephen Hawking. Sonya Pemberton told Neos Kosmos that the reason their film had triumphed was partly because the degree of difficulty in the subject matter. “We were able to translate molecular biology in a way that becomes accessible and understandable.
“It’s also an extremely beautiful film. Harry did an extraordinary job of turning what could have been quite a dry looking film into an exquisite looking film,” said Ms Pemberton.
“He has an eye for a shot and story, on a feature film he’s usually part of a crew of between 30 and 300, and on our films it’s three of us.” Sonya, who says “doing media is not Harry’s bag” describes working with her husband as a source of joy.
“He becomes integral to the storytelling. For me it’s the best back-up and support I could ever wish for. “Harry traditionally only shoots feature films and high-end drama. He only does documentaries for me,” says Sonya.
The film making couple who met 25 years ago on a TV drama set are currently producing a feature length science film called Jabbed to premier on SBS in February 2013. Jabbed will explore how vaccinations can eradicate disease, but in rare cases can also be the cause of injury.
Harry Panagiotidis’ recent work on features includes Wolverine with Hugh Jackman and I, Frankenstein.