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.
“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.
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.