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An Evening with Sloan Foundation Short Films and Panel Discussion with Grant Recipients & Sloan Mentors

February 12, 2020, 7:00 P.M.

The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108, George Lucas Building, USC School of Cinematic Arts Complex, 900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007

The USC School of Cinematic Arts and the Sloan Science Foundation invite you and a guest to attend

An Evening with Sloan Foundation Short Films
and a Panel Discussion with Grant Recipients
and Sloan Mentors

Dessert reception to follow in the SCA Building Lobby.

Screenings will include:
Variables (24 min.) | Hanger's Limb (18 min.)
The Ball Method (19 min.) | Sweet Potatoes (30 min.)


7:00 P.M. on Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108
900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007


Animation and Production Grants: March 2, 2020
Writing and Games Grants: April 27, 2020

About the Event

Please join us for four short film screenings that won Alfred P. Sloan Production grants. After the screening there will be a Q&A with the filmmakers, moderated by Thomas G. Miller, ACE, the Sloan Production mentor, alongside a recent recipient of the Sloan Writing grant, and Sloan Mentors Alan Baker and Mark Jonathan Harris.

The Alfred P. Sloan Award is a merit-based award open to all divisions of the cinema school and to both graduate and undergraduate students. It is administered through the School of Cinematic Arts, but the final award-winner decision is made by the Sloan Foundation. This is a prestigious award whose intention is to promote accurate, non-stereotypical portrayals of science and scientists in media.

The Sloan Grant Program at SCA

Sloan Criteria

The one condition of all submissions is that they portray science and/or scientists in realistic, non-stereotypical ways. They do not necessarily have to include sympathetic characters, and the story does not have to be strictly about science. Sloan is interested in reading about scientists as human beings whether they're fallible or heroic. The stories can be totally fiction or based on an actual event or person.

Science fiction, purely medical stories and documentaries are not accepted. All proposals must be approved for scientific accuracy by a reputable scientist, who is either a current or former full-time or part-time USC faculty member or a professional scientific expert from outside USC.

All undergraduate and graduate SCA majors from the seven academic divisions are eligible and encouraged to apply for any of the listed Sloan grants.

Types of Grants Offered

Two Production Grants are offered for $25,000 (full grant) and $12,250 (half grant)

Production proposals will include a completed script for a short film, 8-15 minutes in length, a story synopsis, shooting schedule and a budget. Previously completed films will not be accepted.

Two Screenwriting Grants are offered for $17,500 each

Screenwriting proposals must include either a completed original feature film narrative script, a television movie script, or a television pilot script that meets the Sloan criteria. This comedy or drama must be a narrative story.

One Animation Grant is offered for $17,500

Animation submission materials are the same as the production proposal with the exception of the proposed film length. Animation entries can be between 5-12 minutes.

One Games Grant is offered for $12,500 (half grant)

Proposals should include a playable prototype, game design document, concept art, production schedule, and budget.

Information on all the Alfred P. Sloan grants can be found on the SCA Community website in the scholarship section:

About the Films


In the middle of the Bosnian War, a teenage math-wiz is given a way out of the bloodshed when his math club gets an invitation to compete at the 1995 International Math Olympiad in Canada. Inspired by true events.

Directed by Sabina Vajraca. Running time: 24 minutes.

Hanger’s Limb

After surviving a brutal amputation during the Civil War, James Hanger returns home emotionally and physically broken. In order to survive his depression, he designs and builds the first prosthetic leg with knee and ankle joints.

Directed by Joel David Santner. Running time: 18 minutes.

The Ball Method

The untold story of African-American chemist, Alice Ball, who at the age of Twenty-Three, finds an effective treatment for leprosy in 1915 Hawaii.

Directed by Dagmawi Abebe. Running time: 19 minutes.

Sweet Potatoes

1951, Mexico City. After synthesizing the main component of the contraceptive pill, young scientist Luis Miramontes faces the religious and personal consequences of his groundbreaking invention.

Directed by Rommel Villa. Running time: 30 minutes.

About the Panelists

SABINA VAJRACA (Writer/Director, Variables)

Originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sabina Vajraca immigrated to the U.S. as a war refugee in 1994, and started her professional career in theater. Her first film, the critically-acclaimed feature documentary Back to Bosnia, premiered at the 2005 AFI Fest and won Director’s Choice at 2006 Crossroads. Most recently she co-directed a Warner Bros./USC feature drama Voodoo Macbeth, and wrote/directed the Alfred P. Sloan-winning short Variables, whose accolades so far include 2019 DGA Student Awards Grand Prize, Best Student Short at 2019 Vail Film Festival, HUMANITAS prize nomination, and 2019 Student Academy Award Semifinalist. She also assisted writer/director Max Mayer on his feature film Adam, starring Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne (2009 Sundance); and shadowed James Whitmore Jr. on Madam Secretary (CBS) and Sarah Boyd on 9-1-1 (FOX). Sabina is an Annenberg Scholar, a member of Film Fatales, Women in Film, WIMPS, and Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and was recently selected for the Ryan Murphy Half Directing Mentorship and the Nantucket Screenwriters Colony. Her feature screenplay For Buraz was the 2018 Austin Film Festival Second Rounder and received the Stowe Story Lab’s Tangerine Fellowship. Sabina received her M.F.A. in Film and TV Production from USC School of Cinematic Arts.

JOEL DAVID SANTNER (Writer/Director, Hanger's Limb)

Joel David Santner is an award-winning writer/director and a recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Production Grant for his project, Hanger’s Limb, which was also a Semi-Finalist for the Student Academy Awards. He has a Master’s from both the Academy for Classical Acting at the Shakespeare Theatre and George Washington University and USC School of Cinematic Arts. Joel's feature scripts have placed in several screenwriting competitions; most recently the CineStory Feature Lab, ScreenCraft Pilot Launch, Nashville Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, and the Academy Nicholl Fellowship. He also co-wrote the feature, Voodoo Macbeth, which will premiere in 2020. Recently, he optioned his script Blood of the Lamb, which he is attached to direct and completed production on a short romantic comedy, Plenty of Fish. Joel is in pre-production for his feature directorial debut, The Coffin Club, starring Stacy Keach and produced by Green Step Productions. 

DAGMAWI ABEBE (Writer/Director, The Ball Method)

Dag Abebe is an Ethiopian born-American Writer, Director, and Editor who immigrated to the United States at the age of 10 and grew up in Virginia. His interest is in directing historical fiction, sci-fi, and drama films with the hopes of bringing untold minority stories to the big screen. After serving as a Lead Editor on the Warner Bros. sponsored feature film, Samir, in 2018, Dag went on to co-direct this year's WB sponsored film, Voodoo Macbeth. He graduated from the University of Southern California Film and TV Production MFA Program in May 2019. Dag currently resides in Los Angeles and is represented by David Baggelaar at GoodFear Film + Management.

ROMMEL VILLA (Writer/Director, Sweet Potatoes)

Rommel is a writer/director, and editor born and raised in Sucre, Bolivia. His interest in telling stories started when he was a child, creating fictional stories about his family having superpowers and fighting poverty and corruption. Rommel has a Bachelor’s Degree in Systems Engineering, a minor in Psychology, and he recently graduated from the MFA in Film and TV Production program at USC with an emphasis in Directing, where he directed over 8 films and wrote more than 10 scripts. Winner of best director in several theater festivals in Bolivia, Rommel received the Lionsgate and Televisa fund for Latinx filmmakers at USC. In addition, he was selected to direct two films at USC: one of them being Teddy Mate, a USC advanced production film, and the second one, a historical film called Sweet Potatoes, which was funded by the Sloan Foundation and is in talks of being developed into a mini-series.

ANTON KUDRYASHOV (Sloan Foundation Grant-Winning Screenwriter, The Handshake)

Anton Kudryashov is a Russian-born writer/director. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California where he completed the Film and TV Production MFA program in December 2019. While at USC Anton directed several short films, one of which, Grounded (2018), went on to win top prizes at the Violetta and Merced College film festivals. He has written multiple screenplays and was the recipient of the Sloan Foundation Writing Grant for the cold war drama The Handshake. He has also had several high-profile internships including one on The Simpsons with Fox Animation.

About the Alfred P. Sloan Production Mentors

ALAN BAKER, B.A. Associate Dean, Administration & International Projects

Alan Baker joined USC in 1998, and since 2009, he has served as the Associate Dean, Administration & International Projects at SCA where he is responsible for developing new and overseeing current international programs.

Since 2011, Baker has been a co-Principal Investigator of American Film Showcase (AFS), a multiyear grant from the U.S. Department of State that sends American filmmakers and documentaries to countries throughout the world for workshops, festivals, and special programs.  During 2015-2016, AFS traveled to 35 countries, and in 2016-2017, it will visit 40 countries.  Baker has accompanied filmmakers to Russia, Haiti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Namibia, Kazakhstan, and numerous others. 

In 2015 and 2016, Baker completed multi-year consulting and workshop agreements with ShanghaiTech University and the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, and he has overseen several workshops for both educational institutions in Shanghai, Beijing and at USC. 

In addition to the Chinese programs, SCA has had a five-year agreement in Malaysia with Multimedia University’s Faculty of Cinematic Arts program.  SCA has produced short workshops in writing, production, cinematography and editing, in addition to conducting external reviews of their overall cinema program. Over the past several years, Baker and SCA have also worked closely with a new university in Ankara, Turkey, the American University in Dubai, and a women’s university in Saudi Arabia 

Between 2007-2009, Baker was the Principal Investigator for the U.S. State Department’s Fusion Arts Exchange program that brought international and American university students to USC for six weeks of intensive writing and production classes taught by SCA faculty. In 2005, Baker organized the first of a series of summer production workshops in Amman, Jordan for aspiring filmmakers. He was also involved in the initial development of Jordan’s Red Seat Institute of Cinematic Arts

Between 2005-2009, in collaboration with the Ford Foundation and Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Baker supervised several workshops for Vietnamese filmmakers at USC and in Hanoi. For the past 18 years Baker has also been the principal SCA liaison with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Film School program which awards annual competitive grants in screenwriting, production and animation to SCA majors.

Prior to coming to USC, Baker worked for more than 25 years in television programming and production, as Vice-President of Programming at 20th Century Fox Television and earlier at Paramount Television. Baker spent the first seven years of his television career at the Los Angeles Public Broadcasting station where he produced more than 200 cultural, documentary, and public affairs programs. Between 1982 and 1984, Baker joined the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and the 1984 Olympic Games where he managed all publicity and press for the 10-week international Olympic Arts Festival.

Baker is married to prominent children’s book author and co-founder of the 25,000 member Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  He has three grown sons, two very young granddaughters, and one badly behaved dog.

MARK JONATHAN HARRIS, B.A., Distinguished Professor

Mark Jonathan Harris is an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and Distinguished Professor in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.

Among the many documentaries he has written, produced and/or directed are Huelga!, the landmark film about Cesar Chavez and the Delano grape strike (1968); and The Redwoods, which won an Oscar for Best Short Documentary and helped establish a redwood national park (1968). The Long Way Home, a film he wrote and directed about the period immediately following the Holocaust, won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 1997; and Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, which he also wrote and directed, won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 2000 and was selected by the U.S. Library of Congress for inclusion in its National Film Registry. Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives (2003), a documentary that he wrote on slavery in America, was nominated for an Emmy for a Nonfiction Special and Harris was nominated for Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming. He also wrote The Cutting Edge:  The Magic of Movie Editing, a documentary about editing produced by BBC-TV, NHK, and STARZ, which is shown in film schools around the world (2004). In 2007, he produced Darfur Now, a film about the humanitarian crisis in Africa, which was nominated as best documentary of the year by the National Board of Review and the Broadcast Film Critics Association and won an NAACP Image Award. Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, a film he executive produced, premiered at the Venice film festival and was shortlisted for the 2011 Oscar for best feature documentary. Code Black, another documentary he executive produced about ER doctors, won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival and became the basis for the CBS series of the same name. In 2016, he co-wrote and co-directed Breaking Point:  The War for Democracy in Ukraine, which has won awards at multiple international film festivals including Best of Show at the Accolade Global Film Competition.

In addition to filmmaking, Harris has written five novels for children and three books of non-fiction as well as articles, essays, and reviews in a number of national newspapers and magazines including TV Guide, American Heritage, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.  

In 2010 the International Documentary Association honored him with its Scholarship and Preservation Award. He holds the Mona and Bernard Kantor Chair of Production at the School of Cinematic Arts, where he heads the documentary program.

THOMAS G. MILLER, MD, ACE, Professor of the Practice of Cinematic Arts

Thomas G. Miller, MD, ACE has worked on documentaries and in public television since 1994. He associate produced the Sundance award-winning film Licensed To Kill (POV-PBS), co-produced the feature documentary Code Black, and co-produced and edited Fender Philosophers (PBS) and Camp Out (MTV/Logo). He has edited the multi-award winning feature documentary films, Good Kurds, Bad Kurds (Independent Lens-PBS), Home of the Brave (Sundance, BBC,CBC), and co-edited Rock The Boat (HBO), the last two being short-listed for an Academy Award. Miller was the Supervising Editor on See What I’m Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary (The Documentary Channel), Paraiso For Sale (PBS) and currently Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Cannes, Tribeca), for which he was nominated for an ACE Award for Best Feature Documentary Editing. He produced, directed, and co-edited the award-winning documentares ONE BAD CAT (Ovation), and the IDA Humanitas Award winning Limited Partnership (Independent Lens-PBS). Other credits include editing and producing television films for Discovery, Fox Family and WNET’s series on disabilities, People in Motion.

Tom served on the board of the International Documentary Association for 9-years and is a member of American Cinema Editors (ACE), the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and the Writer’s Guild of America, West. He is Professor of the Practice of Cinema Arts at the USC School of Cinematic Arts in the Editing Track since 2004, and has also been the Alfred P. Sloan science production mentor since 2009. He is also a board certified pediatrician and has served as a medical consultant for Sesame Street. He graduated with a BS degree from The University of Michigan, an MD from the Medical College of Ohio and an MFA in film and television production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Check-In & Reservations

This event is free of charge and open to the public. Please bring a valid USC ID or print out of your reservation confirmation, which will automatically be sent to your e-mail account upon successfully making an RSVP through this website. Doors will open at 6:30 P.M.

All SCA screenings are OVERBOOKED to ensure seating capacity in the theater, therefore seating is not guaranteed based on RSVPs. The RSVP list will be checked in on a first-come, first-served basis until the theater is full. Once the theater has reached capacity, we will no longer be able to admit guests, regardless of RSVP status.


The USC School of Cinematic Arts is located at 900 W. 34th St., Los Angeles, CA 90007. Parking passes may be purchased for $14.00 at USC Entrance Gate #5, located at the intersection of W. Jefferson Blvd. & McClintock Ave. We recommend Parking Structure D, at the far end of 34th Street. Metered street parking is also available along Jefferson Blvd.

Contact Information

Name: Thomas G. Miller