Sloan Science in Cinema Initiative Spotlights Three SFFILM Festival Titles

SFFILM-2024Today, SFFILM announced the program slate of the Sloan Science in Cinema Initiative at the 67th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM Festival) which runs April 24–28. Presented in partnership between the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and SFFILM, this year’s programs include three films and participation by Sloan Fellows and grant recipients at events throughout the Festival. 

“We are thrilled to partner with SFFILM on our continuing Science in Cinema initiatives,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “This year’s program features three original films, each of which recounts a very personal journey that links to broader scientific themes and addresses universal questions. We’ll be joined on the ground by the 2023 SFFILM Sloan Science in Cinema Fellows, and recipients of our Stories of Science Development Fund grantees who are all at the screenwriting phase of filmmaking. I am excited to have filmmakers from every part of the process together to benefit from each other and from audience interaction.”

Curated programs include three titles, selected by Jessie Fairbanks, SFFILM’s Director of Programming. “It is thrilling to present such a strong slate of Sloan titles at the festival.

The stories, places, and protagonists could not be more different but each film incorporates disciplines of science as a critical tool for the main characters,” she said. “What I love about this group of films is that they are all beautifully lensed, with universal themes, and revelatory performances by young actors. Even more impressive is how each film centers on a youth in need of a framework to understand their circumstances, and it is the rather unexpected introduction of botany, biological evolution, and biophysics that propels their narrative development.”

First is the World Premiere of On the Invention of Species from director Tania Hermida, also being honored as the 2024 recipient of the SFFILM Sloan Science on Screen Award. This annual award carries a $5,000 cash prize and celebrates the compelling depiction of scientific themes or characters in a narrative feature film. The program includes an onstage conversation featuring the film’s cast and crew, and Noah Whiteman, an evolutionary biologist and Professor of Genetics, Genomics, Evolution and Development at the University of California Berkeley. On the Invention of Species follows Carla, while on the cusp of womanhood and grappling with the loss of her brother, finds herself adrift on the historic archipelago that led to Charles Darwin’s breakthrough studies on adaptation. 

As part of an exciting and diverse slate within the SFFILM Sloan Science in Cinema Initiative, the Festival will present two additional films and events. First is the World Premiere of Nicholas Ma’s Mabel, the story of a young, frustrated girl attempting to find her place after a recent family move. Callie loves plants and not much else. When substitute teacher Ms. G (Judy Greer) starts a botany unit, she becomes the point of inspiration for Callie into the world of scientific experimentation. Mabel is a family friendly film for ages 8 and up. Mabel also received the Sloan $100K Feature Film Production Award at NYU in 2019 and the Sloan Screenplay Award from the Tribeca Film Institute in 2020.

Finally, SFFILM is thrilled to honor Oscar-nominated actor, screenwriter, and director Chiwetel Ejiofor with a tribute celebrating his career and the West Coast Premiere of his most recent directorial feature Rob Peace. He co-wrote and co-stars in the story of its talented titular character (Jay Will)—a young New Jersey science prodigy headed for the Ivy League, but heavily impacted by his past. Ejiofor was the recipient of the 2019 Sloan Feature Film Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for his directorial debut, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. 

“We are thrilled to celebrate so many wonderful filmmakers this year who embrace and present themes of science and discovery through a humanistic lens,” said SFFILM Executive Director Anne Lai. “Our partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation provides unique paths of support to help filmmakers discover, develop, and present screenplays and films to audiences around the world. And this year’s Festival demonstrates a robust collection of these supported films and filmmakers which we hope brings attention and exposure to the beautiful work they are creating. ”

In addition to presenting completed films as part of this initiative in this year’s festival, SFFILM will welcome Sloan Fellows and Grant Recipients to the 67th San Francisco International Film Festival. Both the SFFILM Sloan Science in Cinema Fellowship and SFFILM Sloan Stories of Science Development Fund offer other opportunities for SFFILM to provide bespoke resources to filmmakers who are in earlier stages of developing screenplays that capture science through the narrative language of cinema. In 2023, Sloan Science in Cinema Filmmaker Fellowships were awarded to Vivienne Shaw and Fradique, while three screenwriters—Sahand Nikoukar, Katherine Burns, and James Séamus Bearheart—received support through the Sloan Stories of Science Development Fund.

Attending the Festival helps these supported filmmakers sharpen their craft through participation in filmmaker focused networking meetings called Industry Days, and as featured panelists at the California Academy of Sciences Earth to NightLife program on Thursday, April 25, at 6 pm, moderated by SFFILM Director of Artist Development, Masashi Niwano. Tickets are available at Learn more at