Working with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Sundance Institute's Science in Film Initiative "supports the development and exhibition of independent films about science or technology, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character." To this end, the initiative elegantly maps with the fast-changing cultural zeitgeist.
As recently as 1996, scientists, engineers and mathematicians were often portrayed as caricatures or stereotypes in most films—that was the year that Independence Day hit theaters. As you may recall, Jeff Goldblum played the quintessential cerebral scientist who, as it turned out, saved the world from hostile aliens. (At least temporarily, that is. He's staring in the forthcoming sequel Independence Day: Resurgence, in which the aliens are... resurgent.)
But much has changed since 1996. Technology now defines our lives. We navigate an "ideas economy" built on science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM). The billionaire techies in Silicon Valley have shown that the "nerds have won." Marco Rubio recently reminded college kids that "you can decide whether it's worth borrowing $40,000 to be a Greek philosophy major, because the market for Greek philosophers is tight."
And so on.
Sundance and Sloan's initiative moves beyond stereotypes to articulate the value of science and technology through film in deep and multifaceted ways. Their Commissioning Grant and Fellowship, presented through the institute’s Feature Film Program, provides a cash award to support further development of a screenplay and to retain science advisors, along with overall creative and strategic feedback throughout development.
Sundance recently announced awards for the most promising new independent films about science and technology. They include:
- Embrace of the Serpent, directed by Ciro Guerraas, the recipient of the Sloan Science-in Film-Prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival ($20,000)
- Mark Levinson's The Gold Bug Variations won him the Sundance Institute / Sloan Fellowship ($15,000).
- Darcy Brislin and Dyana Winkler (Bell) will receive a Sundance Institute / Sloan Commissioning Grant ($12,500).
Both organizations also acknowledge the gap between the need for STEM skills and the collective acquisition of those skills. STEM education is a huge priority for Sloan, suggesting that the Sundance Institute's Science in Film Initiative is far more than sweaty, socially awkward guys in lab coats trying to convince gung-ho Pentagon generals to refrain from nuking the aliens. Because it won't work.
(Independence Day: Resurgence hits theaters in June 2016.)