Adventures of a Mathematician by Thor Klein is true story of Polish immigrant and mathematician Stan Ulam, who moved to the U.S. in the 1930s. Stan deals with the difficult losses of family and friends all while helping to create both the hydrogen bomb and the first computer. Thor Klein is one of the few talented filmmakers who are fortunate to be picked by TFI (Tribeca Film Institute), and being partially funded by TFI-Sloan partnership.
We had an opportunity to talk to Thor. Here are the excerpts:
How did you find out about TFI? And how has your experience been?
My producer Lena Vurma found out about the Sloan Foundation and their collaboration with Tribeca Film Institute. So she decided to apply for it. It was a perfect fit, since my research started in NYC two years ago, when I met Stan Ulam`s nephew Alex for the first time, who lives very close to Tribeca. We`re all really happy to have the full support from the Sloan Foundation and the Tribeca Film Institute. They treated us wonderfully and we immediately felt part of the family.
What inspired you to make the film on this particular subject, and at this time?
For me, it started when I was 13 years old. Back then I read a book about the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. A place where the U.S. invited the greatest scientists in the world to to basically one thing: Think. I was very surprised that these guys were not at all how I imagined scientists to be. They were throwing parties, driving fast cars and wearing funny hats. They were very colourful characters. I was always into science and kept thinking about them over the years and when I got older I realized that while they were in Princeton, they had to deal with a lot of drama and tragedy in their lives. A lot of them lost their families in Europe. I kept reading and I realized that the world back then was pretty similar to the circumstances we`re facing today. There was the same financial crisis, huge refugee waves and rightwing forces in power. A few years ago I came accross Stan`s autobiography, Adventures of a Mathematician that had exactly the tone that I was interested in. It is a very humorous and anecdotal journey through 20th century science. It`s a life full of great friendships and fascinating encounters, but it also has this underlying drama. In its core it`s a story of immigrants. Essentially a European film that takes place in the US.
How has been the process of researching and working on this film? Any surprising information that you discovered during that process?
A lot. I followed Stan`s tracks and started in his hometown Lvov, which is today called Lviv and is located in the Ukraine. A very cosmopolitan place back then with a lot of different minorities and languages. Stan moved to Cambridge in Massachusetts, then to Los Alamos, Los Angeles and back to Santa Fe, which he loved most. I`m constantly surprised how young he and his friends were back then, while they were doing all this groundbreaking scientific work. Most of them were in their 20s and early 30s. There always was this youthcamp amtosphere among them.
What's your message to other up & coming filmmakers and storytellers?
It depends very much from which angle you approach filmmaking. I come from writing. It usually takes a long time until something that I wrote really convinces me. But while writing I learned one essential thing. Don`t try to convince yourself that something is good, if your inner voice tells you it isn`t. And always follow your intution. That`s what Stan Ulam and his colleagues did as well and it lead them to fascinating mathematical achievements that made the digital world possible.