Film and Fashion Icon, Science Communicator, Nature Lover
Most of us know Isabella Rossellini from the big screen, small screen, covers of top fashion magazines and as the face of Lancôme. Lesser known, perhaps, is her lifelong love of animals and her endless fascination with science. Most recently, her award-winning series of shorts, Green Porno, combines creative storytelling with insightful lessons about animals’ sexual behaviors. Created with the goal of translating the dense science-speak of academic texts into understandable language for non-scientists, the result is fascinating, entertaining and altogether educational. Green Porno was followed by two other animal-themed television productions: Seduce Me: The Spawn of Green Porno and Mammas—a celebration of the maternal aspects of the animal world.
To prepare for Green Porno, Rossellini spent time with Alan Alda, acclaimed actor and namesake of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Alda is an ambassador for communicating science to broad audiences of all ages.
Rossellini explains, “In the attempt to be absolutely precise, scientists create a language that is so enigmatic, you can’t understand it. The language, itself, becomes a barrier. Then scientists complain that people don’t understand things like global warming. But of course they don’t. It is communicated so poorly!”
To increase her knowledge, Rossellini enrolled in the Animal Behavior and Conservation Program at Hunter College. The program develops and enhances students’ research skills and understanding of the behavior of animals, and she is close to completing all credits for a Master’s degree.
Rossellini’s love of animals began as a child. As the daughter of film icons, actress Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini, she grew up with beloved pets and farm animals in the countryside outside Paris and Rome. “Just like people are born with brown eyes, I was born loving animals—it wasn’t a choice,” she explains.
At age 15, her father gave her a copy of Konrad Lorenz’ book, King Solomon’s Ring. Lorenz, an Austrian zoologist, ethologist, ornithologist and Nobel Laureate, is one of the founders of ethology—the scientific and objective study of animal behavior. The book inspired young Isabella who decided that animal behavior would be her field of study. Soon, however, life took some dramatic turns—she started working as a model, became an actor, and dedicated her time to both career and family life. But her love of animals and keen interest in animal behavior remained.
Rossellini connected with Carl Safina through his long-time friend, publisher and Safina Center board member Jack Macrae, who has a home near Rossellini’s small farm on Long Island. Macrae had given her a copy of Safina’s The View from Lazy Point in 2011, and she loved it.
Rossellini says, “I envied Carl’s ability to hear bird song, to identify the species, know where those birds were traveling from, and know which fish were followed by specific birds. He understands wild nature and beautifully ‘decodes’ it for readers. Since he and I live near each other on Long Island, I read Lazy Point with great attention.”
While working in Boston on her new film, JOY, Isabella received the galley for Safina’s new book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. “I had already read about the species Carl focuses on in his new book and was familiar with many of the studies behind it. But his writing about these animals has a fable-like quality to it,” explained Rossellini. “I told Carl he could be the new Aesop! There are lessons for us in the book: Be as gentle as the father wolf or as dedicated as the mother elephant.”
After reading Beyond Words, Rossellini invited Safina and his wife, Patricia Paladines, for lunch and a bit of beekeeping at her home in Bellport, NY. So began their friendship and her support for The Safina Center. In July 2015, she graciously helped launch Beyond Words at Jack Macrae and wife Paula Cooper’s 192 Books in New York City. And Rossellini agreed to be The Safina Center’s honoree at its 2015 Benefit at The Explorers Club.
Isabella Rossellini’s philanthropic interests include preserving her family’s extraordinary cinematic heritage encompassing the films directed by her father and those featuring her mother. She has traveled extensively during 2015 for her latest film, JOY, for the centennial of her mother’s birth and the debut of the Swedish documentary, Ingrid Bergman – In Her Own Words.