On Thursday, Feb. 27, the Tribeca Film Institute and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awarded their fourth annual Student Grand Jury Prize for Screenwriting to UCLA student Laura Alsum, for her screenplay "Survival of the Fittest." The fabulous reception was held at The Electric Room at the Dream Hotel Downtown. The story is about a twelve-year-old boy who is told he is unable to play sports because of his progressive neuromuscular disease. “Laura is a very talented filmmaker and I think it came from a very personal place,” Tamir Muhammad, the Tribeca Film Institute’s Director of Feature Programming, told Examiner.com at the event.
The prize is awarded to a student at one of the country’s top six graduate film programs (AFI, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, NYU, UCLA, USC) who writes a science-oriented screenplay picked by a panel of jurors. This year’s panel consisted of:
- Actress Amy Ryan
- Producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff ("Wolf of Wall Street")
- Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher
- Screenwriter/director/producer Nancy Savoca
- Actor Rae Dawn Chong
- Director/screenwriter Deepa Mehta
- Physicist Gabriel Cwilich
- Actor Matthew Modine
The candidates submit a one-page synopsis of their idea in March, and are assigned a science mentor in April. To be eligible, all candidates must be finished by the end of May. Runner-up Kendall Klein told Examiner.com that she sees the program’s goal as producing films that “portray science in a positive interesting light,” and that “illuminate the humanity within science.” “I think scientists and artists are so similar,” she added. Judge Matthew Modine agreed, saying, “Art and science are two things that go hand-in-hand. They help us to understand who we are, and it’s how when we look back at history we measure our societies.”
Alsum will receive a cash prize of $30,000, as well as $20,000 for year-round support. She herself has a neuromuscular disability, and encourages young filmmakers to “focus on the writing if you write or the directing if you direct. You need to have something good to present. And people will notice it.”
Anthony Calamunci contributed reporting.