Marni Zelnick, filmmaker and graduate student in the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, has been named the 2010 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Award winner for her film project Druid Peak. The Sloan Foundation Award supports outstanding young filmmakers in creating compelling feature-length narrative projects about science and technology, and it provides for a $100,000 cash prize toward the production of the film.
Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of the Tisch School of the Arts, said, “The Sloan Feature Film Award is important for two reasons: the winning films increase the public’s understanding of the fields of science and technology, and it encourages our students and alumni writers and filmmakers, in collaboration with a science advisor, to expand their reach into new fields. This award and the Sloan Writing and Production Award program have had an enormous influence on how we train great writers to research substantive films. We are grateful to the Sloan Foundation for this encouragement and support.”
“We are delighted to support Marni Zelnick’s Druid Peak with the coveted Sloan Feature Film Production grant so she has the resources to make this original film,” said Doron Weber, vice president, programs at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Science and technology offer filmmakers wonderful stories and a great range of characters and we are proud to offer the most talented young artists the opportunity to explore this rich and underappreciated cinematic terrain.”
Druid Peak is the story of 16-year-old Owen Wagner, who, following the death of his best friend in a car accident he caused, is sent to live with the father he never knew, a biologist working on Yellowstone National Park’s wolf reintroduction program. As his knowledge of the animals grows, Owen discovers a passion for the wolves and the wild spaces they inhabit. When a change in government policy threatens the program, he must decide how far he will go to protect the wolves, his father and the place he has finally come to call home.
Zelnick is a writer/director/producer originally from Washington, D.C. The daughter of an award winning journalist, she was encouraged to see the world from as many perspectives as possible and developed a deep and abiding love for the art of storytelling—first as a listener, and later as an author.
She has served on the production team for several award-winning films, including: as producer on James Franco’s The Clerk’s Tale (Official Selection 2010 Cannes Film Festival); assistant director on Homewrecker (Best of Next 2010 Sundance Film Festival) and William Vincent (Official Selection 2010 Tribeca Film Festival); associate producer on Camp Victory, Afghanistan (2010 SXSW Film Festival); and, currently, producer on the upcoming feature Maladies, starring James Franco and Catherine Keener, directed and written by New York visual artist Carter.
As a screenwriter, her feature screenplay The Straight was a finalist for the 2010 Showtime Tony Cox Screenplay Award. Prior to her film career she served as a freelance journalist and worked for Refugees International, a Washington D.C. based advocacy NGO. She was quickly sent to Thailand, where she spent months living with and documenting the lives of the endangered Mlabri people. Her photographs and writing were instrumental in the effort to attain recognition and support for the group from the Thai government.
An MFA-candidate in the Graduate Film division of the Kanbar Institute, Zelnick graduated with honors from Dartmouth College, with a double major in Creative Writing and Film Production where she received the Lockwood Prize for Poetry for her collection Love, War and Other Childhood Memories.
In 1996, the Sloan Foundation partnered with half a dozen of the nation’s top film schools in a pioneering effort to create more realistic and compelling stories about science and technology, and to challenge existing stereotypes of scientists and engineers in commercial film and television. In 2002, the Kanbar Institute filmmakers were the first recipients of the Sloan Foundation’s new Feature Film Production Award.
The New York based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded in 1934, makes grants in science, technology, economics, and the quality of American life. Sloan’s program in public understanding of science and technology, directed by Doron Weber, supports books, radio, film, television, theater, and the Internet to reach a wide, non-specialized audience.
Over the past ten years, Sloan has partnered with six of the top film schools in the country—AFI, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, NYU, UCLA, and USC—and established annual awards in screenwriting and film production. In addition to Sloan Screenplay Development Programs that have initiated such film projects as “Face Value,” the Hedy Lamarr story, slated for shooting in January, the Foundation has sponsored screenwriting and film production workshops at Sundance, the Hamptons, the Tribeca Film Institute, and Film Independent, and honored new feature films such as the forthcoming “Adam” (Fox Searchlight) and recent films such as “Flash of Genius,”” Sleep Dealer,” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Sloan is also a longtime supporter of new science plays at the Ensemble Studio Theater and Manhattan Theater Club, of the John Adams’ opera “Doctor Atomic” and of the upcoming World Science Festival. For more information, please visit www.sloan.org.
The Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at the Tisch School of the Arts provides an intensive and professional education in filmmaking. The program shared first place in recent U.S. News and World Report rankings of the nation’s film programs; since 1992, seventeen Student Academy Award gold medals have been presented to NYU student filmmakers by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences—most recently, in 2010 when Luke Matheny won for his thesis film “God of Love.” At the Sundance Film Festival, the premiere showcase for independent film, Tisch is consistently represented among the approximately 200 films screened every year, but noteworthy are: 2005 and 2006 when alumni films took home nine prizes, 2009 when thesis student Cary Fukunaga won a Directing Award and the Excellence in Cinematography Award, and 2010 when alumna Debra Granik won a Grand Jury Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. In 2010, alumni Geoffey Fletcher (Adapted Screenplay for “Precious”) and Juan José Campanella (Best Foreign Language Film for “El Secreto de Sus Ojos”) won Oscars.
Approximately 150 graduate and 1,050 undergraduate film students pursue degrees in film and television production, photography, cinema studies, dramatic writing, and interactive telecommunications. Distinguished alumni of the Kanbar Institute include Joel Coen, Chris Columbus, Billy Crystal, Martha Coolidge, Ernest Dickerson, Amy Heckerling, Jim Jarmusch, Ang Lee, Spike Lee, Brett Ratner, Nancy Savoca, Martin Scorsese, Susan Seidelman, and Oliver Stone, among many others.