It can be tough to translate niche medical or scientific knowledge for a more general audience. That’s where Clare Gibson comes in. Gibson has possessed a dual passion for both art and science ever since she was a young girl growing up in Manchester, England. She earned a doctorate in health sciences in 2007.
For nearly a decade, she worked as a health researcher in various locations in the United Kingdom, and continued the same work when she and her husband, a geriatrician, moved to Canada in 2013 for his doctoral studies.
In 2016, with her husband’s move to a tenure-track position making things more secure, she decided it was time to combine her two passions. Though she loves photography — she is currently nine years into a photo-a-day project that allows her to flex her creative muscles — it was filmmaking where she thought she could truly make a difference. She discovered the Raindance Postgraduate Degree in Film at Staffordshire University, a Master’s program where students are partnered with creatives around the world whose work is in a similar area. One particular mentor Gibson had was a Toronto-based filmmaker who collaborated frequently with SickKids Foundation.
After completing her degree, she started her filmmaking company, Allegorical Alchemy, in 2018. “Before it was, I go to work as a scientist and art is for home, now it’s much more blended. I get to engage in both for a living, which is awesome,” says Gibson.
The alliterative company name that Gibson selected is filled with meaning. “Alchemy is a magical process where there’s transformation, creation or combination, and so it’s a nod to my process, which combines science and art to create something powerful,” says Gibson. “Then ‘allegorical’ pertains to a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically with a moral or political undertone. That relates to how I present films very much as a patient story, but they have key messages embedded within them.”
Gibson’s creativity and health-research backgrounds lend themselves to work that navigates the balance between the head and the heart. Her process is collaborative, and she deftly weaves the key messages of the research findings through narrative elements. “Storytelling allows the use of metaphor and analogy, and that can really make abstract ideas that present from research into more concrete, tangible things that people can understand more easily,” says Gibson. “Once people become emotionally engaged, they’re more likely to remember the information, they’re less likely to argue the counterpoint, and they’re more likely to be called to action, so all these things are great if you want to really have an impact.”
Allegorical Alchemy serves an important niche in the market. As Gibson explains, while researchers and academics are trained to share their discoveries and innovations with their peers in scientific journals and similar resources, they’re often too busy or simply not sure how to best communicate with the public. Her health research background means she can bridge the gap, translating the researchers’ discoveries with less effort on their part. “They don’t know how to tell engaging stories because all through their training, they’re trained to think of the data. They’re trained to believe people make a decision with their heads and not their hearts, and that’s not a reality,” says Gibson.
Her short films span a variety of subjects, from a mother’s story of navigating the healthcare system to help her child with mental-health issues, to several impactful portraits of patients with kidney disease.
As for the spark that ignites her passion every day, it’s simple: “Ultimately, I want to make real-world difference, that’s what I want my legacy to be. After I’m gone, I want to have said, I’ve done something that’s improved the lives of people.
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This article appears in the Winter 2021 issue of Edify.