Two Columbia Filmmakers Awarded 2019 SFFILM Sloan Science in Cinema Filmmaker Fellowships

BY Felix van Kann, December 19, 2019

Recent alumna Josalynn Smith ’19 and current student Gina Hackett both received the 2019 SFFILM Sloan Science in Cinema Filmmaker Fellowship. They will each receive a $35,000 cash grant and a two-month residency at SFFILM’s FilmHouse residency space. 


Something in the Water, the winning project of writer/director Josalynn Smith, follows Leah, a teen girl living in St. Louis City, who feels isolated and ignored after moving to a new neighborhood and being bused to a new school in an overwhelmingly white county. When Leah begins to observe behavioral changes in her little brother, through her research and experimentation she soon discovers that lead is the culprit. Now tasked with finding the source of the contamination and advocating for a systemic overhaul, a girl, once ignored, begins to find her voice.


Writer/director Gina Hackett’s project A Bridge Between Us tells the story of the high-society wife Emily, who, after her husband and chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge is paralyzed in the early stages of its Victorian-era construction, reluctantly steps up to act as his intermediary, courting jealousy and hostility as she blossoms into an engineer in her own right. Based on a true story, A Bridge Between Us tracks the building of a bridge and the collapse of a marriage.


In addition to the award, another short film by Smith, Ride or Die, screened at the Twin Cities Black Film Festival in October and at the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival in November.


Commenting on her project, Hackett stated, “When I came upon the true story of Emily Warren Roebling, I instantly recognized its potential for the big screen. Although she lived in a very different time, her story felt personal to me. It was the story of a woman determined to support the man she loves by taking on his work, but whose competency in that work threatens the very relationship she is so desperate to protect. It was inherently cinematic, and I am honored that SFFILM has recognized the screenplay as such too.”


According to the SFFILM website, “The Science in Cinema Filmmaker Fellowship is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation as part of their mission to champion films that explore scientific or technological themes or characters. SFFILM will award fellowships to filmmakers in the screenwriting phase of developing a screenplay that tells a story related to science or technology.” Film outlet further explains: “SFFILM will 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. In addition to the residency and grant, SFFILM’s artist development team will facilitate industry introductions to producers and casting, financing, and creative advisors — investing in fellows from early script development stages through to release with the goal to further professional development and career sustainability.”


Josalynn Smith started in the industry as an interviewer and videographer on the award-winning feature documentary, Jim Crow to Barack Obama (2013). She has had films in St. Louis International Film Festival and Queer Fest St. Louis. More recently, Smith is a recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Production Grant for her thesis film Something in the Water (2019), a narrative short film that she wrote and produced. She also keeps a foot in non-scripted with her docu-series A Moveable Feast which she worked on as an artist-in-residence at the Catwalk Institute. Additionally, Smith is the recipient of the Jesse Thompkins III Screenwriting Award from Columbia University. 


Gina Hackett is an MFA student in Screenwriting/Directing at Columbia University. Originally from Wisconsin, she earned her bachelor’s degree in English and Film Studies at Harvard University. In 2019, Hackett received the prestigious Screenplay Grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, as well as the Katharina Otto-Bernstein Production Grant for her upcoming thesis Delicate Prey. She also received Columbia's Alex Sichel Fellowship for a second-year female director demonstrating promise and was a finalist for the SFFILM Rainin Grant as a co-writer on Waleed Alqahtani’s feature film Amal. Her most recent short film Amateur Night (2019) was accepted into the 2019 New Orleans Film Festival. Her producing credits include Girl Friend (2017), which took home the prize for “Best Student Short” at Provincetown International Film Festival and "Best New York Short" at New Fest. As Co-Chair of Columbia Women in Film (CWIF), Hackett champions intersectional storytelling that explores the myriad ways in which women inspire each other.