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Athena Film Fest Announces 2022 Recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Athena List Development Grant

The Athena Film Festival at Barnard College (AFF) has announced Jennifer Vanderbes as the third winner of the annual Alfred P. Sloan Athena List Development Grant for her Athena List-winning script “The Gatekeeper.”

“The Gatekeeper” is a historical drama based on the story of Frances Kelsey, an FDA medical reviewer who fought a major pharmaceutical firm to keep the drug thalidomide off the American market in the early 1960s. The script is based on “Wonder Drug,” Vanderbes’ own non-fiction book, which was also supported by the Sloan Foundation. The book will be published by Random House in June 2023.

Vanderbes will receive $20,000 to help advance her script to the next stage of development. The fest will host a reception and live script-reading December 7 at Barnard College in New York City.

“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,” said Vanderbes. “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.”

Finalists for the 2022 Alfred P. Sloan Athena List Development grant included “Ray of Life” by Kate Sheffield and “Tidal Disruption” by Kiran Deol.

AFF’s partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation aims to bolster the pipeline of women filmmakers working to highlight the importance of women in the sciences.

Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, commented, “We are thrilled to partner with the Athena Film Festival to announce the third annual winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Development grant, part of our nationwide program to support films depicting scientific themes or characters and to highlight the contributions of women and underrepresented groups. We are proud to support Jennifer Vanderbes and her script ‘The Gatekeeper,’ based on a book previously supported by our Book Program that tells the story of another pioneering ‘hidden figure’ in STEM and the obstacles and prejudice she had to overcome to safeguard human health.”

Melissa Silverstein, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of the AFF — and Women and Hollywood’s Founder and Publisher — 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.”

The 13th annual Athena Film Festival will take place March 2-5, 2023 on Barnard’s campus in New York City.

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