Sloan Films at SFFILM 2024

The 67th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM) will take place April 24 –28, in theaters across San Francisco and Berkeley, California. Included in the lineup are three films which will be presented as part of the Sloan Science in Cinema Initiative, a partnership between The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and SFFILM. One of the three will be the annual presentation of the Sloan Science on Screen Award, which celebrates the compelling depiction of science in a narrative feature film. Read more about these exciting new films below, with descriptions quoted from the festival programmers.

Winner of the 2024 Sloan Science on Screen Award:

ON THE INVENTION OF SPECIES. Dir. Tania Hermida. World Premiere. “When Carla’s dad drags her to the Galápagos Islands for a convention on conservation and species evolution, she is less than thrilled. On the cusp of womanhood and grappling with the loss of her brother, Carla finds herself adrift on the historic archipelago that led to Charles Darwin’s breakthrough studies on adaptation. Befriending two young boys who become her emotional foils, Carla pretends to be a different version of herself in order to surmount this emotional and physical journey.”

ON THE INVENTION OF SPECIES makes its world premiere on April 27, preceded by an awards presentation and conversation with director Tania Hermida, actor Jeff Frazier, creative collaborator Martin Durán, and scientist Noah Whiteman. The festival program goes on to praise the Spanish-language feature:

“In this stunningly lensed lyrical debut, Tania Hermida deftly toys with parables while exploring the evolving relationship between man and nature. With Terrence Malick stylings, hints of Agnès Varda observational irony, and a dash of Alice Rohrwacher magical-realism, this tender film is a celebration of the shared sentient experience—biological and emotional.”

Two other films will be highlighted as part of the Science in Cinema Initiative on April 27:

MABEL. Dir. Nicholas Ma. World Premiere. “Biracial Callie (Lexi Perkel) loves trees and plants and little else in Nicholas Ma’s warm debut feature. Surly with her parents and intolerant of people who don’t share her interest, she’s also unhappy about changing schools after her family relocates. But as luck would have it, substitute teacher Ms. G (Judy Greer) is starting a botany unit in science class, and Callie wangles her way in. Held rapt by Ms. G’s lectures and online speeches, Callie develops an experiment raising chrysanthemums in darkness and manages to lure Agnes, her ebullient younger neighbor, into working on the project with her. Precocious, determined, and wryly funny, Callie is a unique protagonist who leverages her love of botany to propel herself into adolescence.”

This is the third time Sloan has recognized MABEL. Nicholas Ma previously earned two Sloan grants back-to-back: the Sloan 100k First Feature Award from NYU Tisch School of the Arts in 2019 and the 2020 Sloan Screenplay Development Award from Tribeca Film Institute.

ROB PEACE. Dir. Chiwetel Ejiofor. “In an acting tour de force, Jay Will plays the talented titular character, a young New Jersey science prodigy headed for the Ivy League, but heavily impacted by his past. While Rob is still an adolescent, his father (another impeccable turn from writer-director Chiwetel Ejiofor) is convicted of homicide and the boy devotes himself to proving his dad’s innocence. As a budding scientist excelling in biophysics, Rob enters Yale, attempting to negotiate this elite new environment alongside his connection to family and community. Based on Peace’s Yale roommate Jeff Hobbs’ bestselling biography, Ejiofor’s exquisite drama details the collision of a life lived under immense pressure. The film features terrific supporting performances by Mary J. Blige as Rob’s caring mother and Mare Winningham as a Yale professor who grants him special lab access.”

The screening of ROB PEACE will be preceded by a tribute to the achievements of Chiwetel Ejiofor. In the decades since his debut in Steven Spielberg’s AMISTAD, Ejiofor has amassed a body of work as not only an actor, but as a writer and director. ROB PEACE is the second feature film to exemplify Ejiofor's multi-hyphenate talents. He also starred in and co-wrote his 2019 directorial debut, THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND. Based on William Kamkwamba’s memoir of the same title, the film won the Sloan Feature Film Prize at the Sundance Film Festival that year. Ejiofor donated the $20,000 prize money to Kamkwamba’s foundation. Prior to ROB PEACE, Ejiofor starred in Sophie Barthes’ THE POD GENERATION, which screened at last year’s SFFILM as part of the same Science in Cinema initiative. A few months prior, THE POD GENERATION also won the Sloan Feature Film Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

The tribute will include a conversation with Chiwetel Ejiofor, actor Jay Will, and writer Jeff Hobbs. As no distribution deal for ROB PEACE has been announced yet, readers unable to catch the film at SFFILM might check out the source material: Jeff Hobbs’s The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace was published by Scribner in 2015.

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