Inaugural Sloan Science in Cinema Prize: The Martian

We are pleased to share that Ridley Scott’s The Martian is the inaugural recipient of the Sloan Science in Cinema Prize, which celebrates the depiction of science in narrative feature filmmaking. Thanks to a new partnership between the Film Society and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this award is this first of many initiatives designed to honor the achievement in rendering the worlds of science and technology through the language of film.

The Film Society and the Sloan Foundation presented the award on Sunday, December 13 at the Roxie Theater at a private event for SFFS members and invited guests from the Bay Area science, technology and education communities. At this special program, Aditya Sood, producer of The Martian; Andy Weir, author of the novel on which the film was based; and Christopher McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, participated in an in-depth discussion of the science behind the story and its journey to the big screen. Moderated by the Film Society's Executive Director Noah Cowan, the onstage conversation featured clips from the film and special behind-the-scenes content.

It is a story that is both fantastically imaginative and absolutely grounded in reality, and has inspired countless readers and filmgoers with its brilliant approach to space exploration.
— Noah Cowan, Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society

“We are delighted to award the first SFFS / Sloan Science in Cinema Prize to The Martian, a realistic and exhilarating tale about the challenges and rewards of human exploration on Mars,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Combining humor, suspense, adventure and wonderful characterization with scientific accuracy, the film dramatizes how human resourcefulness and cooperation allied with deep scientific and engineering know-how can spell the difference between life and death for an individual and for national and international efforts to explore the frontiers of space and knowledge.”

The Sloan Science in Cinema Prize will be presented annually in the fall to a finished film released in that year. Focusing on dramatic and entertaining stories that illuminate the relevance of science and technology to our daily lives or challenge existing stereotypes about scientists, engineers or mathematicians, the Film Society and Sloan Foundation seek to spotlight important new movies and provide a platform to celebrate science during the end-of-year awards season. Consisting of a screening event, a moderated discussion with Bay Area thought leaders and an awards presentation, the Sloan Science in Cinema Prize represents a significant new highlight to the Film Society’s Fall Season programming and in the run-up to the various end-of-year awards events in film. Prize recipients are selected by a panel of Bay Area filmmakers; local scientists, mathematicians and engineers; and Film Society staff.

This annual prize is a part of the Film Society’s new Sloan Science in Cinema initiative, which is designed to develop and present new feature films and episodic content that portray fully-drawn scientist and technologist characters; immerse audiences in the challenges and rewards of scientific discovery; and sharpen public awareness of the intersection of science, technology and our daily lives. Leveraging its position in the heart of the innovation capital of the world, the Film Society seeks to forge meaningful links between the artistic and scientific communities through a suite of programs. In addition to the Sloan Science in Cinema Prize, the initiative also features the Sloan Science in Cinema Filmmaker Fellowship, supporting filmmakers developing science-themed screenplays; and Sloan Science in Cinema at SFIFF, a new spotlight program set to debut at the 2016 the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The Sloan Science in Cinema Initiative represents a formalization of the San Francisco Film Society’s long-standing support and celebration of science and technology in cinema. The 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival featured a number of presentations with scientific and technological themes, including Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, Alex Gibney’s documentary portrait of the tech icon; Michael Almereyda’s Experimenter, about famed social psychologist Stanley Milgram; Alex Winter’s Deep Web, which follows Ross William Ulbricht, the founder of the online black market website Silk Road; a master class on immersive journalism led by Nonny de la Peña which used cutting-edge virtual reality technology to plunge viewers into documentary stories; and an insightful State of Cinema Address by Douglas Trumbull, the pioneering visual effects artist, inventor and engineer.

Filmmaker360 currently supports a number of filmmakers investigating science and technology subject matter. In 2015, the Film Society awarded a SFFS / KRF Filmmaking Grant to Ryan Piers Williams, whose film Staring at the Sun follows an elite group of United Nations aid workers after a massive solar event knocks out the world’s technological structure. The Film Society recently awarded FilmHouse residences to Jennifer Phang—who is following her award-winning science fiction film Advantageous with Canopy, the story of a climate scientist who has recently disappeared—and Elena Greenlee, who is spending her 12-month residency writing Dark Forest, the story of a young psychiatric fellow drawn into the world of Amazonian shamanism. 

The New York-based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded in 1934, makes grants in science, technology, and economic performance. Sloan's program in Public Understanding of Science and Technology, directed by Doron Weber, supports books, radio, film, television, theater and new media to reach a wide, non-specialized audience.

Sloan's Film Program encourages filmmakers to create more realistic and compelling stories about science and technology and to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists and engineers in the popular imagination. Over the past 15 years, Sloan has partnered with some of the top film schools in the country—including AFI, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, NYU, UCLA and USC—and established annual awards in screenwriting and film production, along with an annual best-of-the best Student Grand Jury Prize administered by the Tribeca Film Institute. The Foundation also supports screenplay development programs with the Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, Film Independent, San Francisco Film Society and the Black List. Films developed with the foundation’s support include The Imitation Game, Experimenter, Robot & Frank, Birder’s Guide to Everything, Valley of Saints, Future Weather and the upcoming Man Who Knew Infinity