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The Athena Film Festival, which celebrates female leadership, has revealed the third annual winner of its Alfred P. Sloan development grant, aimed at highlighting the role of women in science.
Jennifer Vanderbes — whose script about FDA medical reviewer Frances Kelsey, The Gatekeeper, was on the Barnard College event’s Black List-inspired Athena List of unproduced screenplays about women leaders — will receive $20,000 to help advance her script to the next stage of development.
The Gatekeeper, a historical drama based on Vanderbes’ upcoming nonfiction book Wonder Drug, also supported by the Sloan Foundation, focuses on Kelsey’s battle in the early 1960s to keep the drug thalidomide off the American market.
“Support from the Athena Film Festival’s Sloan Foundation development grant will help bring to the screen this important STEM story about the largest drug scandal of the 20th century,” Vanderbes said in a statement. “Frances Kelsey was a unicorn of her day — a woman who held both a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and an M.D. She spent years battling government bureaucracy and corporate interests to keep thalidomide off the American market, and her scientific brilliance, moral integrity, and personal pluck make her a fabulous heroine, ripe for the screen, as the centerpiece of an epic battle against Big Pharma.”
The grant gives Vanderbes $20,000 to advance her script to the next stage of development, with a live reading of the script set for Dec. 7 at Barnard.
AFF’s partnership with the Sloan Foundation is aimed at boosting the number of female filmmakers working to highlight the importance of women in the sciences. The collaboration also seeks to challenge stereotypes about women in science and technology and advance a new narrative around women’s leadership in STEM.
Vanderbes’ script and book, Sloan Foundation vice president and program director Doron Weber said in a statement, tell “the story of another pioneering “hidden figure” in STEM and the obstacles and prejudice she had to overcome to safeguard human health.”
Athena Film Festival co-founder and artistic director Melissa Silverstein added, “Our ongoing relationship with the Sloan Foundation has brought so many rich, important and mostly unknown STEM stories of women leaders to life. These women have had a significant impact in our world. The story of Frances Kelsey is one of those stories, and we are so thrilled to be a part of getting this story the attention it deserves.”
Films that landed on past editions of the Athena List include Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex and Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency.
The 13th annual Athena Film Festival, a collaboration between Barnard College’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies and Women and Hollywood, is set for March 2-5, 2023.
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