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Two up-and-coming screenwriters to each receive $20,000

MoMI announces 2022 Sloan Student Winners

By Alicia Venter


Two up-and-coming artists got a welcoming reception to the world of screenwriting, each earning $20,000 in an award from the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Samantha Sewell, a native of Manhattan and UCLA student, and Gerard Shaka of Florida State University (FSU) each were awarded under the stewardship of MoMI, as part of the Museum’s wider Sloan Science & Film initiative, which provides opportunities for the creation, distributes, exhibition and discussion of films that amplify understanding of scientific themes.

The recipients each created a work that revolves around science. The money they were awarded is meant to go towards the development of their scripts; each will also receive industry exposure and year-round mentorship.

Sewell, 25, won for the pilot for her limited series “Until Then We Keep Breathing,” which is based on the life of her father who has Cystic Fibrosis. It is a six part limited series that chronicles her father’s life since 1963, when he was born and diagnosed with the congenital illness.

Samantha Sewell won for her original work “Until We Keep Breathing”

“The reason he is alive today is entirely due to science, medicine, technology and advancements in that field,” Sewell said. “The story is about that and also about one man’s will to live a normal life, and how a family pivots around congenital illness.”

She began her process by examining other forms of media that have presented congenital illness to determine how she wouldn’t. 

In beginning with examples of films and television that presented Cystic Fibrosis in a way she didn’t want to portray it, she was able to avoid commercialized, mainstream ways to present these issues. 

“It was a lot of exploration of family members and dispositions, and placing that within the context of illness — all that in relation then to how other films or TV series have presented that sort of thing,” Sewell said. 

Shaka, 29, was born in Florida, but his parents moved to the Bahamas when he was a baby, where he lived until he was 18. His work, “Woodside,” is set in the home of his childhood, where he explores the struggles of coping with abuse.

“I think I wrote it in like six days, and I just vomited it all on the page… that came out, and it was a really nice ode to the women in the community,” Shaka said.

The story follows a queer Bohemian boy as he attempts to navigate a childhood with an abusive father and complacent mother. 

Gerard Shaka

He works with a marine conservationist and while they are replanting the mangroves, the conservationist shows him what love is.

“She really represents all the women that were in my life… the people who made me feel at home when I was not at home,” he said.

Shaka just started a production company last month with fellow FSU graduates. 

Each recipient was selected by a jury that included Dr. Kate Biberdorf (University of Texas); producer Jessica Hargrave; actor/playwright Naomi Lorrain; Dr. Hannah Landecker (UCLA); Dr. Anita Perr (NYU) and writer/producer Franklin Rho.

“This year’s jury represented a diverse set of backgrounds, interests, and perspectives on both science and film, and I am grateful to them for their thoughtful consideration of our 2022 Sloan Student Prize nominees, all of whom wrote compelling stories that highlight the relevancy of science to daily life. There is an increasing need and demand for such stories, and we are looking forward to working with Samantha Sewell and Gerard Shaka to develop their personal, excellently written stories for the screen,” said Sonia Epstein, MoMI Curator of Science and Technology and Executive Editor of Sloan Science & Film in a statement.

Queens Botanical Garden receives historic $8 million donation


By Alicia Venter

The Queens Botanical Garden is receiving a historic $8 million donation to fund their programming and outreach efforts in the coming years.

Jamaica-based non-profit Joan N. and Norman Bluestone Foundation donated the $8 million, an amount that Queens Botanical Garden Executive Director Evie Hantzopoulos believes to be one of the largest donations given to any cultural organization in Queens.

With this donation, the Queens Botanical Garden plans to strategize the programming and educational services that will be provided to a variety of different Queens residents.

One of the things that I’ve observed and I believe in is how much potential this garden has,” Hantzopoulos said. “It’s already considered such an important resource and space for the community here in Flushing and in Queens. Through this very generous gift that we are going to receive, it’s going to open up a bunch of opportunities for us to serve.”

The Queens Botanical Garden is set to receive an upgrade in the next few years, as the city is funding a new educational building to replace its current outdated center. This donation will allow there to be no time wasted once these doors are opened, as the donation will primarily serve to fund this location’s programming.

Though they are currently “at the mercy of the city” for its completion, Hantzopoulos shared that the new education center, which will be named after the Joan N. and Norman Bluestone Foundation, is set to be completed two years after its groundbreaking. The date of the groundbreaking is currently unconfirmed, but construction is anticipated to begin in early 2024.

We will be able to expand our capacity to serve New York City school children through tours, through workshops and through educational programs. We will be able to do some adult education as well,” Hantzopoulos said. “I think what’s really wonderful is that not only do we have this new building but we will also be able to staff and operate it. From day one that the building opens, we will be able to serve all the guests who come.”

The garden does currently have an education building, though outdated, and they will be developing and piloting new programming with the funding while the construction of the new building is underway.

Hantzopoulos told the Leader-Observer that the funding will directly benefit underrepresented areas in Queens — specifically Jamaica and the Rockaways as requested by the donors.

The Bluestone family… wanted to give something back to those communities as well. Through this gift, we will be doing some extra special outreach to those communities.”

The Queens Botanical Garden will work with the community within public schools, Hantzopoulos shared, in order to promote sustainability and present the opportunities they provide. They are looking at the engagement of communities who haven’t been coming to the garden as much as others, Hantzopoulos said.

The goal, with this funding, is simple to Hantzopoulos.

Our hope is that we are going to reach more people,” she said.

The garden, she explained, is on the cutting edge of environmentally sustainable practices. They are completely organic, with strategies to not waste water and composting on site, continually working to manage their resources and reduce their carbon footprint. They were the first publicly funded LEED platinum certified building in New York City in 2007, and had the first publicly accessible green roof in the city, Hantzopoulos explained.

This is the way our city needs to go in order to become more energy efficient, manage our resources better and mitigate the impacts of climate change,” Hantzopoulos said. “In addition to bringing more people to the garden… we also want to continue leading the way in terms of environmental sustainability as we face the existential crisis of climate change.”

The Joan N. and Norman Bluestone Foundation was formed in 2022 to foster the education of disadvantaged children and young adults in New York City. Joan was a longtime volunteer and donor at the Queens Botanical Garden, serving on its Board of Directors for many years, and she died in 2020.

Norman was a founding member of The Bluestone Organization, a Queens-based real estate company — he died in 2011.

The Queens Botanical Garden is located on 39 acres of city land at the northeast corner of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

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