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‘Breakthrough’ Brings Together World-Class Talent to Explore the Biggest Scientific Issues of Our Time.

Six visionary directors create six unique episodes exploring science’s next world-changing developments on Breakthrough.


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The Daily Beast and National Geographic Channel are partnering up to bring you Curious World—a home to the jaw-dropping and eye-opening stories that will satisfy your curiosity from advanced scientific breakthroughs all the way to the origin of our nation.

The six visionaries behind the six episodes of National Geographic Channel and GE’s Breakthrough boast seven Oscar nominations and 16 Emmy nods—along with six actual statuettes. But if you ask each of them, it is a fair bet they will tell you that none of that Hollywood hardware and accolades come close to measuring up to the world-altering scientific breakthroughs they explore in the landmark new series.

A thought-provoking and mind-altering new anthology of science-exploring episodes, Breakthrough premieres Sunday, Nov. 1, and provides some of Hollywood’s top directors and actors with an opportunity to share their personal passions and perspectives on cutting-edge scientific discoveries. The series tells the stories of our medical and scientific future as they unfold in present time, with the six directors—Ron Howard, Brett Ratner, Paul Giamatti, Akiva Goldsman, Angela Bassett, and Peter Berg—exploring both life-changing innovations and the intrepid scientists behind them. Each of these world-class filmmakers will focus on big-picture issues uniquely personal to them, making Breakthrough a singularly exciting and ambitious project.

It is fitting, for example, that Ron Howard would take up the art, science, and process of getting older in his episode The Age of Aging, which explores the question as to whether aging itself is a curable disease. After all, we have seen him grow from Opie Taylor to Richie Cunningham to one of Hollywood’s most successful director-producers, the creative force behind such films as A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, and The Da Vinci Code.

“My story speaks directly to one of human[kind]’s greatest anxieties,” says Howard, whose film follows both top longevity experts and geneticists as well as an aging couple whose lives could be greatly improved by their cutting-edge science. “What is growing old going to be like? What can it be like? Is there anything that can be done about it?” Adds Howard, “What obviously can be very meaningful is if life could be extended with quality— not just no aches and pains, [but] advanced productivity. Think about extending the productivity of an individual who has already lived those decades and has that wisdom and accrued knowledge, but also has the energy and vitality to act on it, to share it, to teach it, to do something about it.”

Click below to watch full interview videos:

Brett Ratner, blockbuster director of films such as the Rush Hour series and X-Men: The Last Stand, has been fascinated with the brain and the way it works—he calls it “the last great frontier of science”—ever since a family member with depressive psychosis was misdiagnosed with having Alzheimer’s. In The Brain the Final Frontier, the blockbuster film director profiles scientists using leading-edge technology to map the once-hidden reaches of the mind. These discoveries could potentially lead to treatments for neurologic diseases while also exploring deeper questions about the nature of identity, consciousness, and memory.

“Imagine scientists being able to take a memory—like an injury in a war, a memory that was traumatic to that person—and turning it into a happy memory,” says Ratner. “It is scary what actually can be done.” But Ratner finds it even more inspiring. “There is hope,” he says. “This film will hopefully show people with depression that if they can hold on long enough, they are going to be able to implant something in your brain that is going to literally switch it off. Right now we have no idea what the future holds and that is what is so exciting about doing a documentary about the brain. The capacity of this three pounds of mass in our heads is endless.”

In H2OPOCALYPSE, actor-director Angela Bassett takes on one of the most high-stakes, ticking-clock human dramas of our time: the challenge of overcoming the severe drought affecting way too much of our planet. She tells a story of contrasts: communities in California and Arizona where plush lawns and golf courses ignore the fact that the area is in the grips of a water crisis, and a village in Ethiopia where the two gallons of water a day that an individual needs to survive requires a six-mile journey just to retrieve it.

“Coming to this project, one of the things that I have learned is that there is no one solution to the water problem,” says the Oscar-nominated star of What’s Love Got to Do With It. “But there are many. A dialogue about each is important to have. I would like this film to be an impetus to inspire young creative minds, or even mature minds, to come up with innovative ideas to help solve our water problem.”

In Energy from the Edge, Akiva Goldsman tells the story of a quirky collection of heroes—a geothermal engineer, a lava master, even a master brewer—who are exploring unusual and innovative ways to tap into clean, raw sources of power that could eventually replace fossils fuels. For the Oscar-winning screenwriter of A Beautiful Mind, the process of discovering a solution to our energy crisis is not unlike the creative process that he and his fellow artists engage in daily.

“I think the creative process is actually very similar whether it be math, science, music, or art,” says Goldsman. “I am more familiar with the dredging of the ether for a sentence or two, and I like it, but it is an act of sheer faith. It is an act of compulsion into some version of the void, which is what all the folks who have been working to change the way we utilize our resources are doing as well. They are facing a problem that doesn't have a simple presented solution. And then what one does is one sort of throws themselves at it.”

Peter Berg’s Fighting Pandemics takes viewers into the harrowing, inspiring, and often heartbreaking scramble to stop current and impending outbreaks and save the world from future plagues. It’s a battle that seems straight out of the kind of bare-knuckle features that the man behind Friday Night Lights and Lone Survivor makes in his day job as a top Hollywood director. Berg shows that the fight is taking place on many fronts: in labs where scientists are developing antibiotics and vaccines, to think tanks where computer programs are being developed to predict how viruses will spread, to on the ground in places like Liberia, which last year was devastated by an Ebola outbreak.

Acclaimed and prolific actor Paul Giamatti (John Adams, Cinderella Man, Sideways) is the first one to admit that “I am not a tech guy,” so on that level, he seems a curious choice to direct More than Human, the episode that explores the increasingly blurred line between humans and machines. But for Giamatti, the story of cybernetics and the various ways that machines help humans live in an enhanced way is at its core a human tale, not a technological one.

“This has been a hugely eye-opening thing,” says Giamatti of working on his episode of Breakthrough. “With a lot of this stuff, we have gotten to the point where it doesn’t feel like a tool on your body but it is your body. There is no difference between you and the mechanical piece. It’s a kind of joining of body and machine that is really very beautiful.”

Adds Giamatti, “This stuff will change my life. It will change my kids’ life. It’s pretty extraordinary.”

Breakthrough, premieres this Sunday at 9/8c on the National Geographic Channel. New episodes air every Sunday at 9/8 c.

Get ready for our next breakthrough here: natgeotv.com/breakthrough