Film Alumnus Ryan Craver '20 and Student Rachel Ward Awarded 2021 Sloan Science Fellowships

Angeline Dimambro
August 25, 2021

Two Columbia Filmmakers have been awarded the prestigious 2021 Sloan Science in Cinema Filmmaker Fellowships. They are: alumnus Ryan Craver ’20, for his screenplay, Tadpole, and Film student Rachel Ward, in recognition of her screenplay, Typhoid Mary.

Produced in partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Sloan Science in Cinema Filmmaker Fellowships are part of SFFILM’s efforts to support programs that cultivate and champion films exploring scientific or technological themes and characters. As part of the fellowship, Craver and Ward will receive support that will assist them in the development of their narrative feature screenplays.

In Craver’s original script Tadpole, a closeted trans high school student’s experiments ignite a religious backlash in the Bible Belt, and he becomes the reluctant face of America’s absurdist battle between science and religious education.

Typhoid Mary, an original script by Ward, follows a brilliant but headstrong Irish immigrant cook as she unintentionally spreads typhoid to some of the wealthiest homes in Gilded Age New York, until relentless investigators hunt her down, feed her to the tabloids, and make her name infamous even to this day.

“We are proud to partner with SFFILM to support these two talented screenwriters whose original scripts engage with important issues in science and society while giving eloquent voice to underrepresented characters,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation via press release. “These writers join a nationwide program that has supported over 750 science and film projects and includes filmmakers from twelve distinguished film schools and six outstanding screenplay development partners.”

As fellowship recipients, Craver and Ward will each receive a $35,000 cash grant as well as a two-month virtual residency at FilmHouse. Additionally, they will be granted access to the SFFILM Artist Development offerings, which include virtual events, creative advisory, and more. SFFILM will also connect each fellow to a science advisor with expertise in the scientific or technological subjects at the center of their screenplays, as well as leaders in the Bay Area’s science and technology communities.

Craver and Ward were selected from an open call for submissions which were reviewed by a committee comprised of Aneeta Akhurst, Director of Programming at Seeker Media; Brad Balukjian, PhD, Director of Natural History & Sustainability Program at Merritt College; Patrick House, PhD, writer and neuroscientist; Lauren McBride, Director of Artist Development at SFFILM; Rosa Morales, Artist Development Associate Manager of Narrative Programs at SFFILM; Kelly Sutherland, PhD, Associate Professor of Biology at Oregon Institute of Marine Biology; Indre Viskontas, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of San Francisco; and Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (ex-oficio).

“We are thrilled to be awarding this grant to two exciting projects that explore culturally significant scientific fields while also tackling artful and human stories,” the review committee said via official press release. “From a nuanced and delicate coming of age story about a young Trans scientist to a humanizing portrayal of one of the history's most infamous and misunderstood women, both projects lead important conversations in today's social zeitgeist. We appreciate the unique identities of the writers and how their voices shine through in their storytelling. SFFILM and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation are excited to continue to work together in championing films and filmmakers that inspire and expand the public understanding of science and technology."

Ryan Craver is a Southern, gay, and quietly irreverent filmmaker originally from Mooresville, North Carolina. His feature project Tadpole received development support from the Tribeca Film Institute Sloan Filmmaker Fund in 2020. Tadpole’s related short, Sound to Sea also won production grants from both the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists. Both films consider the intersection of queer ecology and teenage hormones. Craver’s first short, Truck Slut, a personal meditation on queerness’s place in a white trash family, was a special mention at the 2019 Palm Springs International Shortfest for “Best Emerging Student Filmmaker.” The short also found him a home at the New Orleans Film Festival, who recently invited him to speak on a panel titled “Southern Stories, Southern Aesthetics.” Craver is currently at work developing Truck Slut as a TV Series, and he’s writing a new feature about a Depression-era Appalachian family visited by Satan. A recent graduate of Columbia University’s Film MFA Program, Craver now lives in New York with a shy betta fish named Plexiglass, who kind of resembles John Galliano’s custom wedding gown for Gwen Stefani.

As a teenager, Rachel Ward’s flair for dramatic expression led to the misguided diagnosis that she was “prone to histrionics.” Fortunately, she understood that being curious and passionate was not something she needed to overcome. At seventeen, Ward left her suburban hometown to attend San Francisco State University, where she focused on photography and gender studies. She finished her bachelor’s degree at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, where she later became an adjunct faculty member. She has been a producer on six feature films, such as Space Station 76Super Dark Times, and Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, which won the Producer’s Guild Award for Best Documentary in 2012. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, where she indulges her love of storytelling and remains haunted by the ineffable.