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Science In Film Initiative

Science In Film Initiative

  • Dopamine – 2003 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize
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  • Primer – 2004 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize
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  • Grizzly Man – 2005 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize
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  • House of Sand – 2006 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize
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  • Dark Matter – 2007 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize
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  • Sleep Dealer – 2008 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize
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  • Adam – 2009 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize
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  • Obselidia – 2010 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize
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  • Another Earth – 2011 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize
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  • Robot and Frank – 2012 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize
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  • Valley of Saints – 2012 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize
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Celebrating its 10th anniversary at Sundance Institute in 2013, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science in Film initiative supports emerging filmmakers whose work heightens public awareness of science in our culture. Through grants, Lab Fellowships, panel discussions, and the annual Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the Initiative illustrates the vital and unique role of scientists and their work in our society and highlights the special possibilities of communicating the complexities and rewards of science through independent film.

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  • 10 Years of Sundance Institute and the Sloan Foundation

    Sundance Institute is proud to celebrate an amazing 10 years of partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and their commitment to Sundance Institute’s Science-in-Film Initiative. The Sloan Foundation is devoted to the support of education and research in science, technology, and economic performance through a variety of grants and fellowships. The principle belief of the Foundation is that understanding the world and all of its functionalities is key to the betterment of society as a whole.


    Nicole Kassell and Michael Goldenberg
    (Photo by Ryan Johnson)

    In 2003, the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program and the Sloan Foundation came together to create the Sundance/Sloan Commissioning Grant and Fellowship, which supports the development of screenplays with science or technology themes. The winners of the Grant and Fellowship are awarded a cash grant to further develop their screenplays, with an additional stipend to hire a science advisor. The 2013 Commissioning Grant was awarded to Thomas Martin for his screenplay The Absence Sonata. The 2013 Fellowship was awarded to writer and director Nicole Kassell and co-writer Barbara Kingsolver for the screenplay Prodigal Summer, based on Kingsolver’s best-selling novel.

    In addition to the Sloan sponsored programs, each year the Foundation also awards the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize to one film at the Sundance Film Festival. The Prize is selected by a jury of film and science professionals and judged based on the film’s focus on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character. The Sloan Feature Film Prize holds a cash award of $20,000 presented to the winning director at the Sundance Film Festival. In 2013, the prize was awarded to Computer Chess, written and directed by Andrew Bujalski and produced by Houston King and Alex Lipschultz.

  • Sloan Prize Winners, Fellows, and Grantees


    Brit Marling (Another Earth)

    Since 2003, Sundance Institute and the Sloan Foundation have partnered to award the Sloan Feature Film Prize, the Sloan Commissioning Grant, and the Sloan Fellowship to feature-length screenplays and films with science or technology themes. Browse the list below to revisit the last 10 years of prize winners and grantees, from Shane Carruth’s contemporary time travel drama Primer to Mike Cahill’s stirring portrait of a woman’s life after the discovery of a tangent universe in Another Earth.

    2012
    Robot and Frank – Feature Film Prize – written by Christopher Ford and directed by Jake Schreier.
    Valley of Saints – Feature Film Prize – written/directed by Musa Syeed.
    Flood – Commissioning Grant – written/directed by Katy Scoggins.
    Operator – Fellowship – written/directed by Logan Kibbens and co-written by Sharon Greene.

    2011
    Another EarthFeature Film Prize –  written/directed by Mike Cahill and co-written by Brit Marling.
    American Prometheus – Commissioning Grant – written and directed by Robert Edwards.
    Paperclip – Commissioning Grant – written and directed by Ioana Uricaru.
    Stem – Fellowship – written and directed by Diane Bell.

    2010
    Obselidia – Feature Film Prize – written/directed by Diane Bell.
    Bed – Commissioning Grant – written/directed by Cath Couteur and co-written by Joel Davis.
    A Birder's Guide to Everything – Fellowship – written/directed by Rob Meyerand and co-written by Luke Matheny.

    2009
    Adam– Feature Film Prize – written/directed by Max Mayer.
    On the Left – Commissioning Grant – directed by Bent-Jurgen Perlmutt.
    La Vida Robot – Commissioning Grant – directed by Alex Rivera.
    Zeroes and Ones – Fellowship – written/directed by Avi Zev Weider.

    2008
    Sleep Dealer – Feature Film Prize – written/directed by Alex Rivera.
    The Experimenter – Fellowship – directed by Michael Amereyda.
    Cockeyed – Fellowship – written/directed by Ryan Knighton.

    2007
    Dark Matter – Feature Film Prize – written by Billy Shebar and directed by Chen Shi-Zheng.
    The Sugar Pill – Commissioning Grant – written by Lisa Krueger.
    Here – Fellowship –written/ directed by Braden King and co-written by Dani Valent.

    2006
    House of Sand – Feature Film Prize – written by Elena Suarez and directed by Andrucha Waddington.
    Ten Dreams – Commissioning Grant – written by Laurie Anderson.
    The Radioactive Boy-Scout – Commissioning Grant – written/directed by Greg Harrison.

    2005
    Grizzly Man – Feature Film Prize – written/directed by Werner Herzog.
    The Radioactive Boy-Scout – Commissioning Grant – written/directed by Greg Harrison.
    Not by Chance – Fellowship – written/directed by Philippe Barcinski.

    2004
    Primer – Feature Film Prize – written/directed by Shane Carruth.

    2003
    Dopamine – Feature Film Prize – directed by Mark Decena and co-written by Tim Breitbach.
    All of Creation – Fellowship – written by Matthew Friedman.

  • Q&A with the Director of Robot & Frank


    Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank)

    An official selection of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and winner of the 2012 Sloan Feature Film Prize, Robot & Frank is an audacious undertaking from first-time director Jake Schreier, who details below just some of the hindrances stemming from casting a robot as a lead. Lucky for Schreier (and audiences), do-it-all veteran Frank Langella, who charms as an aging father and former burglar, effortlessly stars opposite his new mechanical companion. Schreier took some time to guide us behind the curtain and share some stories from the set of Robot & Frank, which also stars James Marsden, Susan Sarandon, and Liv Tyler.

    What was your greatest creative challenge during production on this film?
    Because we were an indie film, we ended up with only about two weeks of overall prep. That meant that the robot suit didn't show up built in New York until about two days before the shoot. We had to develop a set of motions for it very quickly and then learn the rest as we went along. By the last week I remember we felt like we had finally gotten it down. Too bad you can't re-shoot the first three weeks. I think we did a pretty good job of limiting the spectrum of motion in early shooting so that nothing feels too out of sorts once it's all mixed together.

    Fill us in on the origin of the robot and the woman who dons the suit.
    The robot was based on real robots being developed in Japan for elder care. It was built by Alterian FX in LA. They make the Daft Punk helmets and lots of fat suits for Farrelly Brothers movies and the Chucky character and all kinds of other cool stuff. We picked them because they were great at fabrication but also had a real grasp about how a human performer would have to interact with the suit. Rachael Ma was cast as the robot three days before shooting when our original actress had an extreme claustrophobic reaction to donning the suit for the first time. We were very lucky to find her. She's a dancer and actress, and thankfully for us, a trooper. It was humid enough on set without wearing a head-to-toe costume with a helmet that she could barely see through.

    Was there a song/CD that had a had a heavy rotation on this set?
    Liv [Tyler] can be shy on set sometimes, so I had her listen to the song "Bossy" by Kelis to get her in the right mindset. She took it to heart far more than I expected, singing it before every scene. Her rendition sounds a lot more like a nursery rhyme, it was very sweet.

    Did Frank Langella have any notable techniques for establishing a kinship with his co-star—the robot or the actor?
    Sometimes to give Rachael a break, Frank would just be acting with the robot torso sitting on an apple box. The voice was always being read from off camera, nothing seemed to make any difference to him. He's just amazing to watch. He's since said he had something in his mind in place of the robot and that was all he needed, but he's never wanted to reveal what it was.

    What other films did you find yourself referencing while making Robot & Frank?
    Our DP Matthew Lloyd and I talked a lot about Gordon Willis-era Woody Allen for staging wide shots to bring out visual humor, but the movie we talked most directly about was Ronin. We have a 'glass catch' in our film that I had no idea how to shoot. Matt had the good memory to look up the one in Ronin. Turns out a 10 frame close-up on the face of the catcher is the key.

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Founded in 1934, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a non-profit philanthropy that makes grants in science, technology and economic performance. This Sloan-Sundance partnership forms part of a broader national program by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to stimulate leading artists in film, television, and theater; to create more realistic and compelling stories about science and technology; and to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in the popular imagination. Over the past decade, the Foundation has partnered with some of the top film schools in the country – including AFI, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, NYU, UCLA, and USC – and established annual awards in screenwriting and film production and an annual first-feature award for alumni. The Foundation has also started an annual Sloan Feature Film Prize at the Hamptons International Film Festival and initiated new screenwriting and film production workshops at the Hamptons and Tribeca Film Festival and with Film Independent. As more finished films emerge from this developmental pipeline—four features were completed this year, with half a dozen more on deck—the foundation has also partnered with the Coolidge Corner Theater and the Arthouse Convergence to screen science films in up to 40 theaters nationwide. The Foundation also has an active theater program and commissions over a dozen science plays each year from the Ensemble Studio Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club and Playwright Horizons.