Columbia Filmmakers Receive SFFILM's Sloan Science in Cinema Grants

Aisha Amin
February 15, 2024

SFFILM and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation recently announced the recipients of their annual grants, the Sloan Science in Cinema Filmmaker Fellowships, and the Sloan Stories of Science Development Fund. These initiatives are designed to support filmmakers in the realm of scientific and technology-oriented storytelling. Five talented individuals, including current Film student Katherine Burns and Film alum Vivienne Shaw '23, have been chosen to receive these prestigious grants to aid in the development of their feature length narrative cinematic projects. Shaw received the Cinema Filmmaker Fellowship and Burns received an award from the Stories of Science Development Fund.

With the support received from SFFILM and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Burns and Shaw will be working on their feature length scripts. Burns’ film Henry explores themes of connection and artificial intelligence. The main character, Dee Peralta, has left Hollywood behind to play the titular role in a stage production of Henry V, searching for a feeling of connection that she has been missing. But when she discovers that the production is being run by a new AI chatbot, she must grapple with what connection really means—and perhaps find it in an unlikely place. 

Shaw’s screenplay Killing Jar also won the Alfred P. Sloan Screenplay Award last spring. The film follows a competitive entomology PhD student whose world is rocked by the abrupt death of her mother. This launches her into a confusing web of family lies and secrets, leading her to study the insects on her mother's decomposing body in order to uncover the horrifying truth.

“I'm beyond thrilled to be one of the recipients of the SFFILM Sloan Stories of Science Development Fund," said Burns. "There was a period of time in my childhood when I dreamed of becoming a scientist (I saw a video of Neil DeGrasse Tyson in fourth grade and was convinced that I would become an astrophysicist), so combining science and filmmaking with the support of this grant feels like a full-circle moment! 

"I think it's amazing that the Sloan Foundation fosters this symbiotic relationship between science and the arts," she continued. "Each discipline has so much to offer the other in terms of thinking creatively about our society and envisioning what might be possible in the future." 

The SFFILM Sloan Science in Cinema Initiative, established in 2015, is a collaborative effort between SFFILM and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the leading philanthropic supporter of science and the arts in the nation. This initiative aims to showcase and celebrate the fusion of science and storytelling. 

Katherine Burns is a New York-based filmmaker, screenwriter, actor, and third-year Film MFA student at Columbia. After getting her BFA in Acting at NYU (with a minor in Art History), she performed professionally while simultaneously branching out into theatrical lit management and production/creative development. From there, she fell in love with screenwriting and directing. Beyond her own projects, she continues to work as a development associate at Jean Doumanian Productions. 

Vivienne Shaw is a writer and director. She tends to work in comedy and horror, with particular interests in Asian-American and female-centered stories. She is a 2023 CAPE New Writers Fellow finalist for her comedic pilot Higher Power. In addition to her own projects she has worked in development at multiple production companies, including ViacomCBS, Cinetic Media and Gamechanger Films, and has also served as a script reader for the former Sundance Asian-American Fellowship. Outside of film Vivienne also works in video art and projection design for theater productions in the NYC area. She received her BA from Wellesley College in computer science and cinema and media studies.