NEW YORK, NY (November 18, 2022) – The Athena Film Festival at Barnard College (AFF), a joint collaboration between Barnard College’s Athena Center for Leadership and the initiative Women and Hollywood, 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 – the FDA medical reviewer who in the early 1960s fought a major pharmaceutical firm to keep the drug thalidomide off the American market. The script is based on Vanderbes’ own non-fiction book also supported by the Sloan Foundation, Wonder Drug, which will be published by Random House on June 20, 2023.  

Vanderbes will receive $20,000 to help advance her script to the next stage of development. The Festival will host a reception and live script-reading on December 7th, 2022 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 Jennifer 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.” 

AFF is proud to continue partnering with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to bolster the pipeline of women filmmakers working to highlight the importance of women in the sciences. Since 2019, the AFF and Sloan Foundation partnership has supported dozens of filmmakers and projects through grants, lab fellowships, and showcase events at the annual festival. 

“We are thrilled to partner with the Athena Film Festival to announce the 3rd 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,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “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.” 

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

“Our ongoing relationship with the Sloan Foundation has brought so many rich, important and mostly unknown STEM stories of women leaders to life,” said Melissa Silverstein, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of the Athena Film Festival. “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 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Film Program encourages filmmakers to create realistic and compelling stories about science and technology and to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists and engineers. This partnership with AFF is uniquely focused on challenging stereotypes about women in these fields and advancing a new narrative around women’s leadership in STEM.

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

Tickets and passes are on sale now at the Athena Film Festival’s website. 

Over the past thirteen years, the Athena Film Festival has established itself as the premier festival dedicated to celebrating and elevating women’s leadership. Our festival highlights films showcasing women’s leadership from underexplored perspectives; women leading in all places and spaces who are resisting and refuting preconceived notions of all they can be and do. Through our Creative Development Program, we are bolstering the pipeline of women creatives who are telling these stories and fostering a network of women in film.

The Athena Center for Leadership at Barnard College is a catalyst for the education, development, and advancement of inspired and courageous women leaders.

Women and Hollywood educates, advocates, and agitates for gender parity across the entertainment industry. Over the last 15 years, it has grown to be one of the most respected initiatives focused on women’s issues and popular culture, and its founder, Melissa Silverstein, has become a well-respected leader on the subject.

Barnard provides a singular educational experience, as a world-renowned college focused on excellence across the arts and sciences, with all the academic resources of Columbia University and the City of New York as an extended classroom. Founded in 1889, Barnard was one of the few colleges in the nation where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education available to men. Today, Barnard is one of the most selective academic institutions in the country and remains devoted to empowering extraordinary women to become even more exceptional.

Artemis Rising Foundation is dedicated to supporting projects that transform our culture through media, education, and the arts. Founder & CEO: Regina K. Scully.


The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a New York based, philanthropic, not-for-profit institution that makes grants in three areas: research in science, technology, and economics; quality and diversity of scientific institutions; and public engagement with science. Sloan’s program in Public Understanding of Science and Technology, directed by Doron Weber, supports books, radio, film, television, theater and new media to reach a wide, non-specialized audience and to bridge the two cultures of science and the humanities.  Sloan’s Film Program encourages filmmakers to create more realistic and compelling stories about science and technology and to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists and engineers in the popular imagination. Over the past two decades, Sloan has partnered with a dozen leading film schools and established annual awards in screenwriting and film production. The Foundation also supports screenplay development programs with the Sundance Institute, SFFILM, Film Independent, The Black List, Athena Film Festival, and the North Fork TV Festival. 

For more information about the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, visit or follow the Foundation on Twitter and Facebook at @SloanPublic.

 The Athena Film Festival is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.