Close to a Million Dollars From Sloan to Filmmakers in 2016

In 2016, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in partnership with six film schools and four non-profit film institutions awarded $947,500 to filmmakers. In total, 34 films won awards–these awards support projects in screenplay, production, and distribution phases. Each project integrates scientific themes. The full archive of Sloan winners is kept by Sloan Science & Film. Some highlights from 2016 include:

Director and writer Frances Bodomo’s screenplay AFRONAUTS is based on the true story of the Zambian Space Race of the 1960s. The film follows a group of self-exiled villagers building their own rocket to reach the moon before Russia and the US. It stars a 17-year-old astronaut. After receiving multiple Sloan grants as a short film, the feature script received $30,000 through Film Independent and the Sloan Foundation.

Writer Michael Clarkson’s script THE DARK LADY OF DNA is about Rosalind Franklin, the x-ray crystallographer and chemist who helped discover DNA. The screenplay received $15,000 from the University of Southern California and the Sloan Foundation.

Adapted from Richard Powers’ novel The Gold Bug Variations, writer, director, and producer Mark Levinson’s feature film of the same name draws parallels between DNA coding and computer programming. The film weaves in themes from Bach’s “The Goldberg Variations” and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Gold Bug. For the script, Levinson was awarded $15,000 through Sundance and $20,000 through Film Independent in partnership with the Sloan Foundation.

Jennifer Coates’ television series WASTELAND is about the drought in San Joaquin Valley, California. Vera, a hydrologist, travels from Los Angeles to try to find an explanation for the crisis. Coates received $10,000 from NYU and Sloan for the pilot script, and was part of a Tribeca Film Institute-Sloan workshop on how to get a pilot to series.

Writer and director Ciro Guerra’s narrative feature film EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT follows two scientists travelling through the Colombian Amazon in search of a sacred plant. Guerra based the film on the journals kept by ethnologist Richard Evan Schultes in the 1940s. EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT was awarded $20,000 by the Sundance Film Institute and the Sloan Foundation.

Shawn Snyder’s feature film TO DUST tells the story of a Hassidic man, Shmuel, mourning his wife–he finds comfort in learning the biology of decomposition. The college biology professor who teaches Shmuel becomes his friend. After receiving support from NYU in 2015, the screenplay for TO DUST was awarded the $30,000 Sloan Student Grand Jury Prize from the Tribeca Film Institute.

Director Theodore Melfi’s feature film HIDDEN FIGURES, adapted from Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name, is based on the true story of the African American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the space race. There were hundreds of women working in computing in the 1940s through 60s–the film focuses on three in particular. One woman became an aerospace engineering, one was the first African American head of personnel at NASA, and one computed the launch trajectories for John Glenn–the first American to orbit the Earth. The film received $25,000 from the San Francisco Film Society and the Sloan Foundation.

The Sloan Foundation provides funding to film institutes and universities which distribute prizes. Those institutions include: the American Film Institute, Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, Columbia University, New York University Tisch School of the Arts, University of California Los Angeles, University of Southern California, Film Independent, Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, and the San Francisco Film Society. The Sloan Film Program is part of the Foundation’s program in Public Understanding of Science & Technology, directed by Doron Weber.

Stay tuned to Science & Film for more as these projects develop.