The beneficiaries of $72,500 in grants from the Sundance Institute and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation were revealed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival January 25.
Michael Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime, the film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize finalist play by Jordan Harrison, won the Feature Film Prize. Other winners included Adam Benic’s Levittown (Sundance Institute|Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Episodic Storytelling Grant); Darcy Brislin and Dyana Winkler’s Bell (Sundance Institute|Sloan Lab Fellowship); and Jamie Dawson, Howard Gertler, and Likely Story's Untitled Smallpox Eradication Project (Sundance Institute|Sloan Commissioning Grant).
“Support for these artists and their projects is more timely than ever,” said Keri Putnam, executive director of Sundance Institute, in a statement. “Telling nuanced, human stories about science and technology is the most effective way to drive understanding of the forces that play such a major role in shaping our world today.”
“We are thrilled to partner with Sundance for the 14th year in a row and award the 2017 Sloan Feature Film Prize at Sundance to Michael Almereyda's Marjorie Prime,” added Doron Weber, vice president at the Sloan Foundation. “With cool intelligence, wit and poignancy—allied to a deft directorial hand and a stellar cast—Almereyda explores the emotional landscape of artificial intelligence and dramatizes the emerging impact of intelligent machines on our most intimate human relationships. Sloan is also delighted to award three new screenwriting grants at Sundance focusing on scientists and inventors who helped shape the modern world as part of our ’non-profit movie studio for science’ and a national development pipeline which has resulted in 20 feature films to date.”
Marjorie Prime will receive a $20,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Prize is selected by a jury of film and science professionals and “presented to outstanding feature films focusing on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character.”
The film, from director and screenwriter Almereyda, is described as such: “In the near future—a time of artificial intelligence—86-year-old Marjorie has a handsome new companion who looks like her deceased husband and is programmed to feed the story of her life back to her. What would we remember, and what would we forget, if given the chance?” The cast includes Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Lois Smith, and Tim Robbins.
The play Marjorie Prime had its world premiere at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in September 2014. Veteran actor Smith starred in the Playwrights Horizons staging of Marjorie Prime in New York in December 2015.
The jury presented the award to the film version for its “imaginative and nuanced depiction of the evolving relationship between humans and technology, and its moving dramatization of how intelligent machines can challenge our notions of identity, memory and mortality.”
This year’s Alfred P. Sloan jury members are Heather Berlin, Tracy Drain, Nell Greenfieldboyce, Nicole Perlman, and Jennifer Phang.