SFFILM has announced the feature film BlackBerry from co-writer and director Matthew Johnson is the 2023 recipient of the SFFILM Sloan Science on Screen Prize, an award that celebrates the compelling depiction of scientific themes or characters in a narrative feature film. Presented through a partnership between SFFILM and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this annual award carries a $5,000 cash prize and highlights special achievement in rendering the worlds of science and technology through the language of film. The program includes a conversation featuring the film’s creators and experts in the scientific fields being depicted. The Foundation also awards an annual Science in Cinema Award in partnership with SFFILM as part of the institution’s year-round programming through the Science in Cinema Initiative. Previous films honored through the Science in Cinema Initiative include Colin West’s Linoleum (2022), Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up (2021), Francis Lee’s Ammonite (2020), Tom Harper’s The Aeronauts (2019), Damien Chazelle’s First Man (2018), Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures (2017), and Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2016).
BlackBerry starring Jay Baruchel, Cary Elwes, Michael Ironside, and Rich Sommer tells the story of the rise and fall of the world’s first mass market smart device. Johnson’s film perfectly captures the heady creative period of the mid-’90s as groups of nerdy engineers and innovators gorging on snacks and sci-fi flicks intersect with the high-powered and demanding world of financiers and venture capitalists.
And as a fantastic bonus for Festival audiences, the program also features a Sloan Science on Screen title, Sundance favorite The Pod Generation from writer and director Sophie Barthes and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Emilia Clarke. To take full advantage of the Dolby Atmos sound design, the film will screen at the Dolby Cinema @ 1275 Market Street and the Q&A will be moderated by the Director of the Dolby Institute, Glenn Kiser.
“Matt Johnson’s script is pitch perfect in BlackBerry. The story investigates the machinations of disruptive technology and the challenges of engineering innovation through colorful, verbose, and fascinating characters, brought to life by an amazing cast,” says Jessie Fairbanks, the Director of Programming at SFFILM. “As the recipient of the 2023 SFFILM Sloan Science on Screen Prize, BlackBerry exemplifies all the elements we seek when identifying a film for this recognition. We are also thrilled to present Sophie Barthes stunningly constructed film, The Pod Generation, which beautifully blends philosophy, ethics, and bioengineering.”
“We are thrilled to partner with SFFILM on our continuing Science in Cinema initiatives, which includes ongoing support for screenwriters as well as recognition for completed feature films,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “We are honored to showcase BlackBerry and The Pod Generation at this year’s SFFILM Festival. These two independent films look at technology in the modern world—one in the past about the pioneering and much-loved smart device that preceded the iPhone and one in the future about parenting, AI and artificial human reproduction. These films demonstrate how technology is a reflection of who we are and what we desire at any moment and how human-engineered technology shifts as our identities and our needs evolve.”
SFFILM’s partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation—the nation’s leading philanthropic grantor for science and the arts—culminates in the SFFILM Sloan Science in Cinema Initiative. SFFILM launched the program in 2015 to celebrate and highlight cinema that brings together science and the art of storytelling, showing how these two seemingly disparate areas can combine to enhance the power of one another. The selections are meant to immerse a broad public audience in the challenges and rewards of scientific discovery, as well as to engage members of the scientific community.
“The scientific process, much like filmmaking, requires curiosity, diligence, vision, and crucial support at all stages of production, particularly a celebration and spotlight when projects come to fruition,” SFFILM Executive Director Anne Lai says of the program. “We are so proud to be in partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for our Science in Cinema Initiative. Through these programs, we are able to support filmmakers as they hone their stories and gather advice on scientific veracity portrayed in their work.We are grateful for this meaningful partnership and the material impact it has on filmmakers and audiences alike.”
The initiative includes exhibition programs, awards, and screenwriting fellowships that foster collaboration between scientists and artists and elevate filmmakers who tackle scientific or technological themes and characters.
Sloan Science on Screen Prize: “BlackBerry”
Matthew Johnson (USA 2023, 123 min)
Monday, April 17 | 7:30 pm PT | Premier Theater
“The person who puts a computer inside a phone will change the world,” proclaims company founder Mike Lazaridis (impeccably played by Jay Baruchel) in Matthew Johnson’s exuberant depiction of the rise and fall of BlackBerry. The film begins in 1996 with the founding of a small Canadian company focused on using quantum science to provide secure communications and mobile productivity resulting in the launch of a handheld device that soon took the world by storm … until competitors took the technology one step further. Johnson’s film perfectly captures the heady creative period of the mid-’90s as groups of nerdy engineers and innovators gorging on snacks and sci-fi flicks intersect with the high-powered and demanding world of financiers and venture capitalists. The terrific supporting cast includes Cary Elwes, Michael Ironside, and Rich Sommer. Expected Guests: Co-writer and Director Matthew Johnson, and panelist Joel Moore, physicist at UC Berkeley.
BlackBerry is the SFFILM Festival recipient of the Sloan Science on Screen Prize, a recognition that celebrates the compelling depiction of science in a narrative feature film. Presented through a partnership between SFFILM and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the prize is part of SFFILM’s Sloan Science in Cinema initiative.
Ticketing Information: $20 (SFFILM members) | $25 (general public)
Sloan Science on Screen: “The Pod Generation”
Sophie Barthes (Belgium/France 2023, 109 min)
Wednesday, April 19 | 7:30 pm PT | Dolby Cinema
Rachel (Emilia Clarke) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor) live a comfortable lifestyle in New York City in this satiric blend of sci-fi and social commentary set in the near future. While Rachel has a corporate job at a company that makes AI assistants, Alvy works from their upscale apartment studying plants as a botanist. The couple want to have a child but pregnancy might impede Rachel’s prospects for promotion. Her employer has a solution to the dilemma in a new biotech breakthrough, a portable artificial womb in which the fetus can incubate. Experiencing impending parenthood at a remove tests the relationship between husband and wife as well as their connection to their “pod baby.” Writer/director Sophie Barthes presents a striking, darkly funny critique of the effects of capitalism and technology on the family. Expected Guests: Director Sophia Barthes, and moderator Glenn Kiser.
Ticketing Information: $30 (SFFILM members) | $35 (general public)