Arts & Entertainment

Sundance Institute unveils recipients of science-based-documentary grants

The selected teams will receive non-recoupable grants totaling $325,000 for their projects in various development, production and post-production stages.

PARK CITY, Utah — The Sundance Institute and Sandbox Films have announced the eight selected projects for the 2023 Sundance Institute/Sandbox Fund. This initiative offers grants and mentorship to independent artists who want to explore the connection between science and culture through inventive storytelling.

The selected teams will receive non-recoupable grants totaling $325,000 for their projects in various development, production and post-production stages. In addition, the filmmakers will benefit from tailored film support and become part of Sundance Institute’s year-round artist community. This includes meaningful opportunities to connect with Sundance’s network of alumni and creative advisors, as well as Sandbox Films’ roster of renowned scientists.

“We are thrilled to announce the latest cohort of Sundance/Sandbox grantees,” said Paola Mottura, Director of the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Fund, in a press release. “This exciting new group of projects showcases an incredibly diverse tapestry of artistic approaches and daring creative visions that continue to redefine what a ‘science film’ can be. From India to the Caribbean, Madagascar to the Everglades, the people and stories spotlighted in these films shed light on the deeply collaborative nature of scientific practice and its crucial role in working toward a brighter future for humanity and its planet.”

Each of the grantees’ projects encourages viewers to marvel at the wonders of the natural world while shedding light on the challenges faced by scientists, such as navigating immigration, exile, diaspora and geopolitics. These projects also explore important themes like the dismantling of colonial legacies and the resurgence of local and Indigenous knowledge and expertise, particularly in relation to local and regional ecology.

“We continue to be blown away by the diversity of stories highlighting scientific inquiry that come through this grant program,”  said Jessica Harrop, head of production and development at Sandbox Films, in the press release. “It is an honor to work with the team at Sundance, and we look forward to supporting this talented group of artists as they bring these films to life.”

The latest grantees are:


Dreams of a Dark Sky (India)

Director: Anmol Tikoo

Producers: Mikaela Beardsley, Raghu Karnad

As Ladakh is flooded with light, local engineers in Hanle work with astronomers and nearby nomadic communities to create a new kind of sanctuary: for darkness and starlight. But the dark sky holds a different dream for each of them. What will they discover about themselves, others, and the cosmos as they embrace the dark?


Time Hunter (Germany, Namibia, U.S.A.)

Directors: Daniel Chein, Mark Mushiva Ya Mushiva

Producers: David Felix Sutcliffe, Daniel Chein

A revolutionary agent is dispatched to steal technology from his colonial oppressors to use against them. Can he help his people without losing himself in the maze of the diaspora?


Untitled Scientist Project (U.S.A.)

Director and Producer: Jiayan “Jenny” Shi




River of Grass (U.S.A.)

Director: Sasha Wortzel

Producers: Danielle Varga, Sasha Wortzel

River of Grass explores the entwinement of past colonial violences and present-day ecological urgency in the iconic and imperiled Florida Everglades, told through the prescient writings of the late environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and those who today call the region home.


Todo Lo Sólido (All That Is Solid) (Cuba)

Directors: Luis Gutiérrez Arias, Zaina Bseiso

Producers: Zaina Bseiso, Luis Gutiérrez Arias, Joie Estrella Horwitz

Todo Lo Sólido (All That Is Solid) tells the story of an island sinking into the Caribbean Sea. As a nameless drifter searches for explanations about the island’s destiny, reality and fantasy merge to reflect on the construction of a nation and the burden of progress.


Untitled Science Project (Brazil, U.S.A., Belgium)

Director: Emilia Mello

Producer: Elijah Stevens

A young chemistry student contemplates the nature of black holes.


With Their Backs to the Sky (Madagascar)

Director: Erik Nuding

Producers: Angelo Andrianiaina, Kendall Fitzgerald

Bridging bat disease ecology and conservation, this collaborative journey invites us into the tightly entangled lives of bat catchers, field biologists, and old-world fruit bats within the heavily exploited forest ecosystems of Madagascar. Joy persists in the face of storms that flood, mudslides that flatten, and fires that consume.




Brief Tender Light (U.S.A.)

Director and Producer: Arthur Musah

At the elite MIT, a Ghanaian alum follows four African students striving to become agents of change for home: Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Over an intimate, decade-long journey, all must refine their ideas about the world and themselves, and, ultimately, how to transform youthful ideals into action as adults.

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