"Good news of a long-awaited event will arrive soon," was the fortune that screenwriter Mikki del Monico received in a cookie the week before receiving word that she and her directorial partner Randall Dottin were the recipients of a $100,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the production of their feature-length film Indelible.
This is the first of two $100,000 awards that the Sloan Foundation has pledged to support first-time feature filmmakers from Columbia's School of the Arts. This grant is unprecedented in that it is the largest single award available to Columbia film students or recent alumni and the first to support feature-length films.
"We are delighted to support promising young filmmakers like Mikki del Monico and Randall Dottin and help them turn the stereotype-busting screenplay for Indelible into a finished film," says Doron Weber, program director for the Sloan Foundation. "We hope that screenwriters and directors will see that science and technology offer them a potential goldmine: wonderful, diverse characters and great stories that have gone largely untold."
The film depicts an African-American female scientist who is in a race to find a cure for the deadly disease that took the life of her husband and threatens her teen-age son. In her quest for a cure, the scientist must balance between time in the lab and those once-in-a-lifetime moments with her son.
"Indelible is in the tradition of films like Whale Rider and Erin Brockovich -- stories that have strong, complex females as main characters," Dottin says. "What attracted me to the script was the main character's paradoxical circumstance. On one hand she spends 100 hours a week in the lab trying to make drugs that save lives and on the other hand she has a son who is like, 'I don't care whose life you save -- I need my mom.' She is stuck. How, as a mother, do you tell your child that he's going to die if you don't do something about it? I knew I had to direct this film when I asked myself what I would do."
Dottin and del Monico hope to begin filming in Harlem in the summer of 2005, with the help of their producing partner, Melanie Williams Oram (SOA '04). "I chose to set the story in Harlem, not only because I was living there at the time, but also because it has the awesome presence necessary to harbor both the vulnerability and volatility inherent in the definition of home," says del Monico, who received an Alfred P. Sloan Screenwriting Award for the script in 2002.
"I am so grateful to the Sloan Foundation for the opportunity to turn this screenplay into a feature film," del Monico continues. "It all starts with an idea, but it takes financial support to turn the idea into a reality. Sloan has helped me -- from the initial screenwriting award to this production award -- to continue moving forward with Indelible. It has given me, in those isolated moments when it was just me and the keyboard, the stamina to rethink and re-envision this project so that it can reach its greatest potential. An exciting journey awaits, and I am thrilled to have such incredible support, both from Sloan and from our mentors at Columbia University who believe in this project and our team."
Dottin adds, "It is exciting to be connected with the Sloan Foundation and remain connected to Columbia, especially the faculty and mentors who got us to this point, particularly Jamal Joseph. The attention from this grant will help us raise the additional funds needed for production."
Since graduating from SOA in May 2003, Dottin has already received acclaim for his thesis short film A-Alike. In 2003, he was named Best African-American Filmmaker by the Director's Guild of America. He took second place in the National Board of Review for Motion Pictures Award, and was a finalist in the HBO Short Film competition at the American Black Film Festival. A-Alike won best short at the Roxbury ( Massachusetts ) Film Festival and screened at the Martha's Vineyard African American Film Festival, among others. The film premiered on HBO in December, and is licensed by the network for two years.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has been supporting Columbia's School of the Arts since 1998 with annual screenwriting and production awards to graduate students. These awards have proven a powerful incentive for students to incorporate science in their work and have enabled students to work closely with scientific advisers.