The TV show “Bill Nye: The Science Guy” was a staple for countless kids raised in the 90s. He turned on a generation to science, demonstrating the way the natural world works in a way that kids young and old could understand.
Now Nye - both his science guy persona, and the man himself - is the subject of documentary being featured in the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival. Bill Nye: Science Guy is directed by Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado.
Alvarado, now 33, grew up watching the show. "On TV or on VHS tapes in class….Watching Bill Nye on Saturdays was just the highlight of my weekend," he says. “Growing up in Dallas, Texas, it just seemed to leap out of the screen at me."
Nye provided a different way of looking at the world, much different from the world of Alvarado's childhood raised by conservative Christian parents.
“In the film, people who watch it will see people who believe the earth is something like 10,000 years old and that Noah’s Ark was a literal event that happened very recently,” he notes. “So that’s the background I came from.”
Alvarado left home, eventually went to film school and now lives in New York.
In 2014 he discovered Bill Nye was slated to debate creationist Ken Ham. “It totally caught our attention because first of all we thought Bill was dead,” Alvarado says.
He immediately reached out to Nye.
“We set up a meeting and essentially he wasn’t hard to convince that there should be a film about him and we were the right guys to do it and so we got extremely lucky,” says Alvarado. “Looking back at it, I don’t know why he said yes.”
The film captures Nye’s encounter with creationist Ken Ham and with climate change-denying meteorologist Joe Bastardi.
“(He’s) a Fox News contributor who loves the weather. He loves the earth systems. He’s honestly in love with weather and he’s taken that passion. And his view of climate change is that it’s not manmade, and if it is, it doesn’t matter enough. He’s been very vocal about that,” Alvarado says.
Bill Nye is now CEO of The Planetary Society, which Carl Sagan founded in 1980, as well as a NASA consultant and advisor.
"When we started filming he was transitioning to this new persona. He was becoming Bill Nye CEO Guy. And for us that was just a real pleasure to watch because here he was, this guy who was totally experienced camera actor, but now he has to be a leader for an organization to actually do space missions," Alvarado says.
Alvarado believes it’s an important time to share Bill Nye’s story.
“We live in a time when the strongest people in politics are pushing back against science and technology in this very unhealthy, dangerous way...People need to be better educated in science and technology….and for me, Bill’s story is sort of a symbol for our time,” he says. “This film in some small way talks about it.”
The documentary, Bill Nye: Science Guy will screen one more time on October 10th at the Avalon Theater as a part of the Milwaukee Film Festival.