Morgan’s students, Alfred Sturtevant, Calvin Bridges and Hermann Muller, were the main forces behind the research. !The one that caught my attention was Calvin Bridges. The FLY ROOM was born from a series of on-camera interviews I conducted with Calvin’s daughter, Betsey Black. Now ninety-three years old, Betsey shared a first-hand account of her father and his colleagues, as well as her personal photographs and Calvin’s archives. After meeting Betsey, I was compelled by this intimate tragedy of a little girl trying to deci- pher her father, the same way he was trying to decipher the genetic code. Her stories are charged with emotion and often provide a complex view of her father and his scientific world.
Calvin was a brilliant, fascinating and charismatic, yet difficult man. He was considered the natural genius in the lab who was the first to determine that chromosomes contain genes and characterize all the genes on the X sex chromosome. In spite of having four children, however, being a father and a husband came a distant second to his scientific pursuits and he had trouble connecting emotionally with his family – possibly a byproduct of his own tragic and unaffectionate upbringing. The same obsessive nature that brought him scientific recognition became a destructive force in his personal life. He had an uncontrol- lable desire for women, resulting in many affairs that he unconventionally documented in a notebook, which was eventually burned by his colleague as a means of protecting his leg- acy. Betsey attributes his unconventional behavior to his “confusing sex and love.”
The story is portrayed from Betsey’s perspective at the ages of nine and twenty with a coda featuring the real Betsey at the age of ninety-three. The younger Betsey character personifies the curiosity that we all have in science and allows us to move freely back and forth between the pragmatic scientific space and a magical realm where flies and humans mingle. Uninhibited by her struggles to understand the oddities that inhabit the unfamiliar scientific laboratory, Betsey asks questions that clarify difficult scientific concepts.
At the forefront of the film, is the dramatic narrative about a girl’s quest to understand her father through his research. But the story also emphasizes the importance of model organisms, such as the fly, to understand universal laws of science and how that speaks to our identity and who we are.
By revisiting her memories at the time of her father’ death, the twenty-year old Betsey ac- knowledges the impact of her father’s work in genetics and how he ironically remained in- capable of understanding his genetic role within the family. Betsey is ultimately able to re- solve the confusion about her relationship with her father, and no longer afflicted with pain- ful memories from their time together has the freedom to evolve pass her tormented child- hood and pursue a life of her own with her fiancee Ed. For her birthday, at ninety-three, Betsey surrounds herself with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as the matriarch and genetic source of a large family.
Alexis Gambis Writer-Director