Science Sandbox Nonfiction Project


The Science Sandbox Nonfiction Project offers grants, engagement events, and other opportunities for independent artists seeking to explore the intrinsic link between science and culture through innovative storytelling. The program is administered by the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, in collaboration with Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation.

Grant Opportunity

Grants are offered to independent artists who are working at the intersection of science and nonfiction storytelling. The partnership identifies and supports nonfiction projects that inspire a deeper interest in science, especially among those who don’t think of themselves as science enthusiasts.

Eligibility & How to Apply

U.S. and international nonfiction projects are eligible, including feature-length projects, shorts, series, immersive and new-media projects.

All applications must be submitted through the Documentary Fund application portal. Applicants can note their interest in being considered for this fund on the application form.

The project operates on an open and rolling application process. Grant-making decisions occur up to three times per year, generally spring, summer, and fall, in collaboration with the Science Sandbox staff.

The project offers support to projects at all stages of development, production, post-production, and impact campaigns. Average grant sizes are as follows:

  • Development ($10,000 - $25,000)
  • Production ($35,000 - $50,000)
  • Post-Production ($30,000 - $50,000)
  • Impact/engagement ($20,000 - $25,000)

Creative Considerations
Selection criteria for the Science Sandbox Nonfiction Project will emphasize creative narrative techniques and projects that highlight diversity in science, specifically those that feature characters, topics, or disciplines that broaden and redefine what it means to be a scientist or to do science.

Supported Projects

  • Edge of Time

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    Time stands still as a scientific drilling ship retrieves sediment cores from the seabed at the equator. A work of ethnographic sci-fi, Edge of Time intertwines Jorge Luis Borges’ meditations on immortality with scientists’ reflections on oceanography, time, and extinction.

    Director & Producer: Stephanie Spray
    Post-Production Grant


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    Fathom follows the world’s most immersed whale researchers to explore their groundbreaking work and how a life among whales has shaped them personally.

    Director: Drew Xanthopoulos
    Producer: Megan Gilbride
    Production Grant

    Missing Microbes (Working Title)

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    Facing an international public health crisis - the disappearance of our microbes (the ‘good bugs’ that live in us and are passed down from mom to baby) – two globetrotting scientists race to save our health, while four patients with life-threatening diseases triggered by this loss fight for their lives.

    Directors & Producers: Steven Lawrence & Sarah Schenck
    Post-Production Grant

    Raising Khan

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    After returning from Afghanistan with severe depression and PTSD, Harry Turner went to the Peruvian Amazon to end his life. There, he met conservationist and scientist Samantha Zwicker, and through their work together raising orphaned wildlife he is finding a reason to live.

    Directors: Melissa Lesh & Trevor Frost
    Producer: Melissa Lesh & Trevor Frost
    Production Grant

    Red Heaven

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    Six people live for one year in a NASA psychological experiment, simulating the first human habitat on Mars.

    Directors & Producers: Katherine Gorringe & Lauren DeFilippo
    Post-Production Grant

    Untitled Black Hole Film

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    Nothing challenges our understanding like black holes: they are the darkest objects and the brightest—the simplest and the most complex. In this film, we follow two teams. One is looking at black holes theoretically, and it is a team led by Stephen Hawking and his collaborators in their attempt to show that black holes do not annihilate the past. The other team is observational, and it assembles an earth-sized telescope to capture the first-ever photograph of a black hole. Woven throughout are reflections on what these most mysterious objects say about the limits of knowledge.

    Director: Peter Galison
    Producer: Chyld King
    Production Grant

    The Eyes to See

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    The Eyes to See chronicles the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists.

    Directors: Ian Cheney & Sharon Shattuck
    Producer: Manette Pottle
    Production Grant

    The Last Kidney Donor (Working Title)

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    Director Penny Lane’s decision to donate her kidney to a stranger leads into an exploration of organ transplantation – past, present and future. Part scientific drama and part humorous personal essay, the film shows how scientists made organ transplantation possible, and now aim to make it a thing of the past.

    Director: Penny Lane
    Producer: Gabriel Sedgwick
    Development Grant

    Users (Working Title)

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    Is technology an expression of our humanity or is technology destroying our humanity? As our society moves increasingly towards a “technopoly” civilization, this visual essay documentary will explore the unintended and often dehumanizing consequences of our society's embedded belief that technological progress will lead to the betterment of humanity.

    Director: Natalia Almada
    Producers: Josh Penn & Elizabeth Lodge Stepp
    Development Grant

  • All Light, Everywhere

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    All Light, Everywhere is an upcoming feature documentary exploring past, present, and future relationships between technology, vision, and power. From arcane theories of sight to the emergence of virtual reality and police body camera programs, the film takes a kaleidoscopic investigation into how the reality of what we see is constructed through the tools, beliefs, and practices of how we are taught to see.

    Director: Theo Anthony
    Producer: Riel Roch-Decter
    Development Grant

    Inventing Tomorrow

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    Take a journey with young minds around the globe as they prepare their projects for the largest convening of high school scientists in the world: the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Watch these passionate innovators find the courage to face the planet’s environmental threats while navigating adolescence.

    Director: Laura Nix
    Producers: Diane Becker, Melanie Miller, Laura Nix
    Post-Production Grant

    The Most Unknown

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    The Most Unknown is an epic documentary film that sends nine scientists to extraordinary parts of the world to uncover unexpected answers to some of humanity’s biggest questions. How did life begin? What is time? What is consciousness? How much do we really know?

    Director and producer: Ian Cheney
    Audience Engagement Grant

    The Quiet Zone

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    Welcome to Green Bank, West Virginia, the only town in America where, by federal decree, the use of cell phones, WiFi, and other wireless technology is banned. Ironically, Green Bank is also home to the world’s most powerful radio telescope, a place where astronomers search for clues to unlock the history and future of our galaxy. The Quiet Zone follows this close-knit community with one foot in two worlds, past and present, whose way of life depends on the survival of the telescope at the very moment when it’s threatened with closure.

    Director: Katie Dellamaggiore
    Producers: Nelson Dellamaggiore, Tracie Holder
    Production Grant

    Code for Bias (Working Title)

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    Merging cinema vérité and graphic visual elements, the film captures MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini’s startling discovery that most facial-recognition software does not accurately see dark-skinned faces. Through Joy’s transformation from scientist to tireless advocate, Code for Bias (Working Title) sheds light on the impacts of AI on civil rights and democracy, and it explores what it means to be human in the 21st century.

    Director and producer: Shalini Kantayya
    Development Grant

About Science Sandbox

Science Sandbox is dedicated to inspiring a deeper interest in science, especially among those who don’t think of themselves as science enthusiasts. We support and collaborate with programs that unlock scientific thinking in everyone. Our partnerships invite a wide audience to engage in the scientific process — a process defined by curiosity, contingent upon asking questions, and informed by reliable evidence — to find solutions to everyday problems. Funded projects include film and other media productions, informal education experiences, live science events and awareness campaigns. Our funding criteria reflect our belief in the positive effects of infusing the culture with scientific thinking. We seek grantees who bring science to the people, tell science stories in innovative ways, and make science relevant to everyday life. Science Sandbox is an initiative of the Simons Foundation. For more information about Science Sandbox go to

About Sandbox Films

Sandbox Films is a mission-driven documentary studio that champions excellence in science storytelling. Through co-productions and co-financing opportunities, we collaborate with production partners and visionary filmmakers around the world to tell new stories about science. We seek to illuminate the pursuit of discovery, in all its beauty and sometimes messiness, with stories that humanize science in relatable ways for diverse points of view. Sandbox Films, LLC is a registered affiliate of the Simons Foundation. More info at:

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