Michael Almereyda’s Sundance Film “Tesla” electrifies Alfred P. Sloan Foundation jury to garner the 2020 top grant
What: Sundance Film Festival
When: Through Feb. 2
Where: Park City, Salt Lake City and the Sundance Resort
At a reception at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Tuesday, the beneficiaries of $70,000 in grants from Sundance Institute and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation were revealed. Doron Weber, vice president and program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, presented the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize of $20,000 to Michael Almereyda’s “Tesla” and announced the new winners: Tim Delaney for “The Plutonians” (Sundance Institute | Sloan Commissioning Grant); Kiran Deol for “Tidal Disruption” (Sundance Institute | Sloan Development Fellowship); and Courtney Smith for “Higher” (Sundance Institute | Sloan Episodic Fellowship).
The awards were presented at an afternoon cocktail reception at High West Distillery. These activities are part of the Sundance Institute Science-In-Film Initiative, which is made possible by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize is selected by a jury of film and science professionals, and presented to an outstanding feature film focusing on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character, and will be included in the 2020 Sundance Film Festival closing Awards Night.
The New York-based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded in 1934, is a non-profit philanthropy that makes grants for original research and education in science, technology and economic performance. Sloan’s program in public understanding of science and yechnology, directed by Doron Weber, supports books, radio, film, television, theater and new media to reach a wide, non-specialized audience and to bridge the two cultures of science and the humanities.
The 2020 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize Jury was named on Jan. 14, and includes Dr. Ruth Angus, associate professor in astrophysics at Columbia University; actress Emily Mortimer; multimedia artist Jessica Oreck; materials scientist and science communicator Ainissa Ramirez; and director and screenwriter Michael Tyburski.
The jury stated, “For its bold and original approach to cinematic storytelling, and for its beautifully shot portrayal of a technological pioneer and visionary futurist who foresaw our age 100 years ago, the 2020 Alfred. P. Sloan Feature Film Prize goes to Michael Almereyda’s ‘Tesla.’”
“Science is key in bridging the gap between the real and the potential, and seeing stories of science told boldly, independently, and with creative vision can spark our own imaginations.” said Keri Putnam, executive director of Sundance Institute. “With the aid of the Sloan Foundation, works that tell these stories can enlighten us on the progress we’ve made and help to inspire us to take on the challenges of the future.”
“We are thrilled to partner with Sundance Institute for our 18th year in a row and to honor Michael Almereyda’s ‘Tesla’ with Ethan Hawke in the title role as our juried feature film prize winner,” said Weber. “Nicola Tesla was a technological pioneer far ahead of his time and this highly original film for the first time in movie history does both technological and poetic justice to this enduringly fascinating and enigmatic figure.
“We are equally thrilled to develop with Sundance an exciting pipeline of new screenplays and teleplays including “The Plutonians,” “Tidal Disruption” and “Higher,” encompassing a brilliant satire about astronomy and truth, a psychological drama about sexual harassment in science and a social and historical epic about the construction of the Empire State Building,” he said. “These three new winning scripts along with many previous Sundance winners still in development—and dozens more projects with our five other film partners across the country—comprise one of the best lists in the film industry and show yet again the science makes for great storytelling and great characters.”
Almereyda’s films include features, documentaries and shorts. “Marjorie Prime” premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize. “Experimenter” premiered at the 2015 Festival. Almereyda’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” premiered at the 2014 Venice International Film Festival.
The 18-year partnership between the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Sundance Institute forms part of the Sloan Foundation’s nationwide Film Program, which includes support for six of the nation’s leading film schools and seven screenwriting development partners and has resulted in over 25 completed feature films.
In addition to “Hidden Figures,” originally supported by a Sloan book grant, the film program has long championed stories about women in science from “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” to stories about Louise Pearce, Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie, Lise Meitner and Jane Goodall.
The program has also supported many works about the role of technology in daily life, including the impact of machine learning, robotics and artificial intelligence. Sloan has supported feature narrative films such as “Adventures of a Mathematician,” “One Man Dies a Million Times,” “The Sound of Silence,” “To Dust,” “The Catcher Was a Spy,” “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” “The Imitation Game,” “Experimenter and Operator,” along with documentaries, such as the 2020 Sundance Film Festival selection “Coded Bias” and several new projects, including episodic television, in development.
The program has also given early recognition to stand-out films such as “The Aeronauts,” “First Man,” “Searching,” “The Martian” and “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” last year’s recipient of the Feature Film Prize.
The Sundance Institute also awarded Tim Delaney the Sloan Commissioning Grant.
Delaney will receive a $25,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for “The Plutonians.” Previous winners include Alex Rivera’s “La Vida Robot” and Robert Edwards’ “American Prometheus.”
“The Plutonians” is about a motley coalition of astronomers and outsiders conspires to defend Pluto when the definition of planethood threatens to exclude the planet.
Delaney is a writer and director from Bronxville, New York. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was awarded Best Undergraduate Screenplay, and currently resides in New York where he attends New York University’s Graduate Filmmaking Program as both a thesis student and an adjunct professor.
The Sloan Development Fellowship was awarded to Kiran Deol, who will receive a $15,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for “Tidal Disruption.” Previous winners include Logan Kibens’s “Operator,” Darcy Brislin and Dyana Winkler’s “Bell” and Rob Meyer’s “A Birder’s Guide to Everything.”
“Tidal Disruption” is about a starry eyed graduate student who desperately struggles to maneuver between her passion for astronomy and her charismatic mentor’s advances in this claustrophobic psychological thriller.
Deol is a filmmaker, comedian, and actor based in Los Angeles. Her first film, “Woman Rebel,” a documentary about women rebel soldiers, was nominated for an Emmy, shortlisted for an Oscar and distributed by HBO. She currently stars in as Mallory in the new NBC/Hulu series “Sunnyside” from Mike Schur and Kal Penn. She tours nationally as a standup comedian and can be heard on the Crooked Media’s “Hysteria” podcast. “Tidal Disruption” is her first feature film.
The Sloan Episodic Fellowship was awarded to Courtney Smith, who will receive an $10,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for “Higher.”
“Higher” is a drama about the brave men and women — immigrants, investors and industrialists — who risked it all to raise the rafters on the The Empire State Building, while the world around them fell apart.
Smith, an NYU/Tisch graduate, is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles. She was a second round finalist at the Austin Film Festival (2015) and her feature film, “Archangel,” co-written by Patrick Massett, received offers from Blumhouse, Sony International and IM Global. She is currently working on “Swagger” for Apple TV+ and has worked in writer’s departments on shows including “Friday Night Lights,” “The Get Down” and “The Blacklist.”
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