Mark Levinson's The Gold Bug Variations

Particle physicist turned film director Mark Levinson was awarded a $15,000 cash award by the Sloan Foundation at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. THE GOLD BUG VARIATIONS is still in script stage. It was awarded the Sundance Institute-Sloan Fellowship as part of an initiative to develop new work through the Sundance Labs. Levinson will receive the support of a science advisor and film mentorship.

According to Levinson, THE GOLD BUG VARIATIONS is “a double helix of two love stories spiraling across 25 years and the mysterious disappearance of a scientist on the verge of understanding the code for life, but derailed by the search for the code for love.” The script is based on a Richard Powers’s novel of the same name. This is the third novel by Powers, who is a physicist turned writer, and also a cello player and singer. His work often integrates scientific themes and characters, and he is adept at conveying the way scientists think. The Gold Bug Variations, a tome of over 600 pages, brings in Bach’s “The Goldberg Variations,” as well as an Edgar Allen Poe short story “The Gold Bug.” Poe’s story tells of a man obsessed with a golden scarab who has to decode a message in order to find where treasure is buried. Powers’ The Gold Bug Variations features characters involved in both DNA coding and computer programming.

His previous film, PARTICLE FEVER, was a documentary about the Large Hadron Collider, the largest structure built by man, and the discovery of the Higgs boson. PARTICLE FEVER received distribution support from the Sloan Foundation.

Science & Film spoke over email with Mark Levinson about how he came to THE GOLD BUG VARIATIONS:

“Richard Powers' book was first published in 1991 and I read it soon thereafter. It immediately struck me as perhaps the most thoughtful and dramatic depiction of the overlap/boundary between science and 'art' that I had ever read. As someone who had made the 'journey' myself from science to art (PhD in theoretical particle physics to filmmaking), the story had real resonance. It had total authenticity in its science, but also had a very compelling dramatic narrative at its center; and the potential for the most wonderful musical score!

“I actually contacted Powers in 2007 about obtaining the rights, but they were unavailable at the time. I then went on to make the documentary PARTICLE FEVER, which completely absorbed me for the next seven years. And magically, when I contacted Powers again in 2014, the rights to THE GOLD BUG VARIATIONS were clear!”

The Sloan-Sundance partnership awards two films in development prizes each year, and awards a prize to a feature film at the festival. Previous winners of the Lab Fellowship include Jonathan Minard and Scott Rashap’s film ARCHIVE, recently featured on Science & Film.