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Sundance's New Grantees for Science-Focused Documentary Fund

The nonprofit Sundance Institute and Sandbox Films today announced eight projects selected for the 2023 Sundance Institute | Sandbox Fund. The Fund offers grants and mentorship for independent artists seeking to explore the intrinsic link between science and culture through innovative storytelling.

The selected project teams receive nonrecoupable grants totaling $325,000 for their projects in the stages of development, production, and post-production. The filmmakers will also receive customized film support and join Sundance Institute’s year-round artist community, with meaningful opportunities to connect with Sundance’s network of alumni and creative advisors, as well as Sandbox Films’ roster of renowned scientists.

The grantees’ projects invite viewers to wonder at the natural world and consider the plights of scientists caught in complex webs of immigration, exile, diaspora, and geopolitics, and highlight, among other themes, the deconstruction of colonial legacies and the resurfacing of local and Indigenous knowledge and expertise, particularly related to local and regional ecology.

“We are thrilled to announce the latest cohort of Sundance | Sandbox grantees. This exciting new group of projects showcases an incredibly diverse tapestry of artistic approaches and daring creative visions that continue to redefine what a ‘science film’ can be. From India to the Caribbean, Madagascar to the Everglades, the people, and stories spotlighted in these films shed light on the deeply collaborative nature of scientific practice and its crucial role in working toward a brighter future for humanity and its planet,” said Paola Mottura, Director of the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Fund.

“We continue to be blown away by the diversity of stories highlighting scientific inquiry that come through this grant program. It is an honor to work with the team at Sundance, and we look forward to supporting this talented group of artists as they bring these films to life,” said Jessica Harrop, Head of Production and Development at Sandbox Film.”

Prior projects supported with funding from the Sandbox Fund include recent Documentary Emmy® Award winner Wildcat (which was acquired by Amazon Studios), Oscar-nominated Fire of Love (which premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival where it received the Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: U.S. Documentary), All Light, Everywhere (which won the 2021 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Nonfiction Experimentation), Confessions of a Good Samaritan (which premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival), Fathom (which premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival and was acquired by Apple), Herbaria (which premiered at the 2022 Visions du Réel), and Users (which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival).

The latest grantees, presented by the production stage, are:


Dreams of a Dark Sky (India)

Director: Anmol Tikoo

Producers: Mikaela Beardsley, Raghu Karnad

As Ladakh is flooded with light, local engineers in Hanle work with astronomers and nearby nomadic communities to create a new kind of sanctuary: for darkness and starlight. But the dark sky holds a different dream for each of them. What will they discover about themselves, others, and the cosmos as they embrace the dark?

Time Hunter(Germany, Namibia, U.S.A.)

Directors: Daniel Chein, Mark Mushiva Ya Mushiva

Producers: David Felix Sutcliffe, Daniel Chein

A revolutionary agent is dispatched to steal technology from his colonial oppressors to use against them. Can he help his people without losing himself in the maze of the diaspora?

Untitled Scientist Project (U.S.A.)

Director and Producer: Jiayan “Jenny” Shi


River of Grass (U.S.A.)

Director: Sasha Wortzel

Producers: Danielle Varga, Sasha Wortzel

River of Grass explores the entwinement of past colonial violences and present-day ecological urgency in the iconic and imperiled Florida Everglades, told through the prescient writings of the late environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and those who today call the region home.

Todo Lo Sólido (All That Is Solid) (Cuba)

Directors: Luis Gutiérrez Arias, Zaina Bseiso

Producers: Zaina Bseiso, Luis Gutiérrez Arias, Joie Estrella Horwitz

Todo Lo Sólido (All That Is Solid) tells the story of an island sinking into the Caribbean Sea. As a nameless drifter searches for explanations about the island’s destiny, reality and fantasy merge to reflect on the construction of a nation and the burden of progress.

Untitled Science Project (Brazil, U.S.A., Belgium)

Director: Emilia Mello

Producer: Elijah Stevens

A young chemistry student contemplates the nature of black holes.

With Their Backs to the Sky (Madagascar)

Director: Erik Nuding

Producers: Angelo Andrianiaina, Kendall Fitzgerald

Bridging bat disease ecology and conservation, this collaborative journey invites us into the tightly entangled lives of bat catchers, field biologists, and old-world fruit bats within the heavily exploited forest ecosystems of Madagascar. Joy persists in the face of storms that flood, mudslides that flatten, and fires that consume.


Brief Tender Light (U.S.A.)

Director and Producer: Arthur Musah

At the elite MIT, a Ghanaian alum follows four African students striving to become agents of change for home: Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Over an intimate, decade-long journey, all must refine their ideas about the world and themselves, and, ultimately, how to transform youthful ideals into action as adults.

Sundance Institute

More on the Sundance Institute

As a champion and curator of independent stories, the nonprofit Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for artists across storytelling media to create and thrive. Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Institute’s signature labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. Sundance Collab, a digital community platform, brings a global cohort of working artists together to learn from Sundance Advisors and connect with each other in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress.. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discover original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling.

Through the Sundance Institute artist programs, we have supported such projects as Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Big Sick, Bottle Rocket, Boys Don’t Cry, Boys State, Call Me By Your Name, Clemency, CODA, Drunktown’s Finest, The Farewell, Fire of Love, Flee, The Forty-Year-Old Version, Fruitvale Station, Get Out, Half Nelson, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hereditary, Honeyland, The Infiltrators, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Little Woods, Love & Basketball, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Mudbound, Nanny,Navalny, O.J.: Made in America, One Child Nation, Pariah, Raising Victor Vargas, Requiem for a Dream, Reservoir Dogs, RBG, Sin Nombre, Sorry to Bother You, The Souvenir, Strong Island, Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Swiss Army Man, Sydney, A Thousand and One, Top of the Lake, Walking and Talking, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Zola.

Through year-round artist programs, the Institute also nurtured the early careers of artists such Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Gregg Araki, Darren Aronofsky, Lisa Cholodenko, Ryan Coogler, Nia DaCosta, The Daniels, David Gordon Green, Miranda July, James Mangold, John Cameron Mitchell, Kimberly Peirce, Boots Riley, Ira Sachs, Quentin Tarantino, Taika Waititi, Lulu Wang, and Chloé Zhao. Support Sundance Institute in our commitment to uplifting bold artists and powerful storytelling globally by making a donation at JoinSundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube.

Sandbox Films

Sandbox Films is an Academy Award-nominated and Emmy and Peabody Award-winning production company that specializes in creative and boundary-breaking documentaries rooted in scientific ideas that inform society and culture. Launched in 2020, our films include: Fire of Love (which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature; “Hands down, documentary of the year,” according to Rolling Stone); All Light, Everywhere (Sundance 2021 special jury prize winner; released by Neon and Hulu); Fireball (co-directed by Werner Herzog; released as an Apple+ Original); Fathom (which won an Emmy Award for Best Sound in a Documentary); and Human Nature (which was nominated for three Emmys)

By ML Staff. Images courtesy of Sundance Institute


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