Robert Cohen (’09), a recent alumnus of New York University’s Department of Dramatic Writing in the Tisch School of the Arts, has been named the winner of the inaugural Alfred P. Sloan Student Grand Jury Prize for a Science-Themed Screenplay. The new annual grant was created to highlight exceptional feature screenplays that dramatize science and technology themes and/or portray scientists, engineers, or mathematicians in prominent character roles. The announcement was made by the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI).
Cohen will receive a $30,000 cash prize, and an additional $20,000 will go directly to fund the film project and year-round mentorship from TFI, including guidance from scientific and film industry professionals. His winning screenplay, Bystander, centers on the 1964 rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens as 37 witnesses looked on. Though the attack lasted over 30 minutes, none of the witnesses called the police or intervened until she was already dead.
The script is a historically accurate fictional account of the tragedy’s aftermath, namely its inspiration of John Darley’s and Bibb Latané’s seminal psychological study on the inaction of the witnesses or as they termed it: “the Bystander Effect.” It became one of the most conclusive and replicable effects in the field of psychology.
Cohen’s screenplay was chosen as the “best-of-the-best” from the winning scripts submitted from six leading film schools participating in the Sloan Foundation’s decade-long National Film Program. The all-star selection committee included Academy Award-winners Morgan Freeman and Eric Roth as well as President of HBO Films Len Amato, and 1986 Nobel Laureate, Dr. Dudley Herschbach. Additional input was provided by the Sloan Foundation and its partners in screenplay development: the Tribeca Film Institute, Film Independent, the Hamptons International Film Festival, and Sundance Institute.
Since 1997, the Sloan Foundation has given over $3 million dollars in direct grants to film students throughout the country, including $1.5 million in prize money to student screenwriters and more than $1.5 million to student directors and producers.
Doron Weber, vice president of programs for the Sloan Foundation, noted that with over 250 student film projects, including six that have been shot or are going into production this year, Sloan has “one of the richest pipelines of scripts anywhere” and hopes that Bystander, “aided by TFI’s stellar experience and expertise, will soon join their ranks.”
Co-Chairman of the Board of TFI and co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival Jane Rosenthal praised the Sloan foundation for its “continued support and the opportunity to continue to nurture and encourage student filmmaking,” and called the inaugural award “the next step” in TFI’s partnership with Sloan.