“The Pod Generation”: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Sundance Institute Award for Science-in-Film Initiative Recipient

The Pod Generation Sundance Institute AwardToday at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, the Sundance Institute Science-in-Film initiative with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation celebrated this year’s Feature Film Prize winner The Pod Generation directed by Sophie Barthes and the recipients of three artist grants for three projects in development at a reception following the Appetite for Construction panel at Filmmaker Lodge.

The four filmmakers received a total of $70,000 in funding through the Prize and three artist grants for projects: Benjy Steinberg for The Professor and the Spy received the Sloan Episodic Fellowship, Cynthia Lowen for Light Mass Energy received the Sloan Development Fellowship, and John Lopez for Incompleteness received the Sloan Commissioning Grant.

“We are in a global moment where arts institutions must recognize in actionable ways the importance of science in media and entertainment, and Sundance Institute is deeply appreciative that the Sloan Foundation has partnered with us over two decades to nurture that connection,” said Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente.”It’s a pleasure to return to Park City to honor our Feature Film Prize winner and grantees after an engaging chat with our panelists about the bright side of science and the ethical framework scientists and storytellers alike bring to the idea of progress.”

“We are delighted to honor Sophie Barthes’ The Pod Generation, an original, futuristic-looking romance that engages with contemporary issues about reproductive technology and its impact on evolving gender roles and what it means to be a parent in the age of AI,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “At the same time, we are immensely pleased to award three screenwriting fellowships to three outstanding writers – John Lopez, Benjy Steinberg, and Cynthia Lowen – who explore scientific history and revisit the role of great men of science through the perspective of women and maverick sensibilities. This year’s winners are wonderful additions to the nationwide Sloan film program and further proof of the vitality of our pioneering, two-decade partnership with Sundance.”

The Pod Generation has been awarded the 2023 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and received a $20,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at today’s reception. The 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. The 2023 jury for Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize included Dr. Heather Berlin, Jim Gaffigan, Dr. Mandë Holford, Shalini Kantayya, and Lydia Dean Pilcher.

The jury shared that it selected “Sophie Barthes’s futuristic romantic comedy, The Pod Generation, for its bold, visually-arresting depiction of a brave new parenthood in which AI and artificial wombs provide technological benefits at the expense of our relationship to nature and to our own humanity, and for a woman artist’s exploration of shifting gender roles dissociated from biology.”

The Pod Generation stars Emilia Clarke, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rosalie Craig, Vinette Robinson, and Jean-Marc Barr and is set “in a not-so-distant future, amid a society madly in love with technology, tech giant Pegazus offers couples the opportunity to share their pregnancies via detachable artificial wombs or pods. And so begins Rachel and Alvy’s wild ride to parenthood in this brave new world.” A Belgium, France and U.K. co-production, the film is produced by Geneviève Lemal, Yann Zenou, Nadia Kamlichi, Martin Metz and screened within the Premieres section of the Festival lineup. A Columbia University graduate, Sophie Barthes is a Franco-American filmmaker. Her directorial debut, Cold Souls with Paul Giamatti and Emily Watson was released by Samuel Goldwyn. Cold Souls played in competition at the Sundance Film Festival. Sophie is a Sundance Screenwriters & Directors Lab alumna. Her second feature Madame Bovary with Mia Wasikowska was released in 2015 after premiering at Telluride.

Benjy Steinberg (writer) will receive a $10,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for The Professor and the Spy through the Sundance Institute / Sloan Episodic Fellowship. The Professor and the Spy is about “Maria Mayer, Columbia University’s ambitious first female physics professor, who joins the Manhattan Project – only to discover that her research partner is a notorious Soviet spy. As Maria cooperates with the FBI to counterspy on her colleague, she must question the ethics of her country, and thus her own moral fiber.” Benjy Steinberg was raised by academics in Northern California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. His work approaches the crime, thriller and horror genres from unconventional angles, such as science, sexuality and religion. Benjy most recently was a staff writer on Season 3 of ABC’s Big Sky. Previous winners of the Sundance Institute / Sloan Episodic Fellowship include: Our Dark Lady, The Harvard Computers, and Higher.

Cynthia Lowen (writer and director) will receive a $15,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for Light Mass Energy through the Sundance Institute / Sloan Development Fellowship. Light Mass Energy is the story of Mileva Marić Einstein, who confronted rampant discrimination to become one of the first women in physics and an essential contributor to the theory of relativity. As barriers to her career overwhelm her, Mileva battles mental illness and her own exclusion from history. Cynthia Lowen is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and writer. She’s the director/producer of Battleground (STARZ) and Netizens (HBO) and is the producer/writer of Bully (Netflix/PBS). Cynthia is also winner of the National Poetry Series for her collection ‘The Cloud That Contained the Lightning’ about the making of the atomic bomb. Cynthia will also participate in the upcoming Feature Film Program Screenwriters Intensive to further develop her script. Previous winners of the Sundance Institute / Sloan Development Fellowship include: Moving Bangladesh, Chariot, and Tidal Disruption.

John Lopez (writer) will receive a $25,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for Incompleteness through the Sundance Institute / Sloan Commissioning Grant. Adapted from Rebecca Goldstein’s book, Incompleteness takes place in the run up to World War II, when logician Kurt Gödel falls in love and discovers two mind-bending proofs that shake mathematics and philosophy to their cores. However, in surviving an era of collapsing reason, Gödel’s own mind soon turns against him with only his wife Adele to sustain him. John Lopez started his career covering film and the arts for Grantland, Vanity Fair and Business Week. He was an associate producer on Hossein Amini’s adaptation of The Two Faces of January and has written for Paramount +’s Strange Angel, Netflix’s Seven Seconds and Showtime’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. John was also a Writing Fellow at the Institute’s Episodic Lab. Previous winners of the Sundance Institute / Sloan Commissioning Grant include: The Futurist, Pharmacopeia, The Plutonians and Challenger.

Prior to the Feature Film Prize reception, audiences and guests were invited to participate in a conversation at the Filmmaker Lodge as part of the Beyond Film programming at the Festival:


Supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

There’s no shortage of dystopian futures and calamity science in popular media. What happened to better living through science and technology? Where’s our science optimism? What if near-future fiction gave us inspiration instead of nightmares, and solutions to daunting problems? What if bioengineering produced bacteria that eat plastic instead of people? From AI to genetics, we explore the bright side of science and the ethical framework scientists and storytellers bring to the idea of progress.

Featuring: Sophie Barthes (The Pod Generation), Drew Endy (associate professor of bioengineering, Stanford University), Yewande Pearse (neuroscientist & science communicator, founder of Nyewro), Richie Mehta (Poachers, Extrapolations)

Moderated by Ahmed Best (Star Wars, co-founder of Afrorithm Futures Group)

For over 20 years, the Science-in-Film initiative has supported emerging filmmakers whose work heightens public awareness of science in our culture, portrays the full range of humanity engaged in scientific and technological pursuit, illustrates the vital and unique role of scientists and their work in our society, and highlights the special possibilities of communicating through independent film. In addition to the prize, the Sloan-funded initiative underwrites the development of projects with science and technology themes through the Sloan Commissioning Grant, the Sloan Episodic Fellowship in the Sundance Institute Episodic Program, and the Sloan Development Fellowship in the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program. Fifty scripts have been developed or are currently in development through this program, with numerous feature films produced and released theatrically. The initiative also expands public discourse about science and cinema through a dedicated panel at the Sundance Film Festival. Panelists and jurors over the past 21 years have included Alan Alda, Paula Apsell, Darren Aronofsky, Kerry Bishé, Mike Cahill, Sean Carroll, Antonio Damasio, Ann Druyan, Brian Greene, Clark Gregg, Tenoch Huerta, Clifford V. Johnson, Margaret Leone, Flora Lichtman, Brit Marling, Marvin Minsky, Jonathan Nolan, Sev Ohanian, Alex Rivera, Octavia Spencer, Shawn Snyder, and John Underkoffler.

Previous recipients of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize include Kogonada’s After Yang (2022), Alexis Gambis’s Son of Monarchs (2021), Michael Almereyda’s Tesla (2020), Chiwetel Ejiofor’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019), Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian’s Searching (2018), Michael Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime (2017), Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent (2016), Kyle Patrick Alvarez and Tim Talbott’s The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015), Mike Cahill’s I Origins (2014), Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess (2013), Jake Schreier and Christopher D. Ford’s Robot & Frank (2012), Musa Syeed’s Valley of Saints (2012), Mike Cahill’s Another Earth (2011), Diane Bell’s Obselidia (2010), Max Mayer’s Adam (2009), Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer (2008), Chen Shi-Zheng’s Dark Matter (2007); Andrucha Waddington’s The House of Sand (2006), Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005), Shane Carruth’s Primer (2004), and Mark Decena’s Dopamine (2003).