Sandbox Films Promotes Jessica Harrop to Executive Director, Announces New Programming and Initiatives

Today, Sandbox Films announced the promotions of Jessica Harrop to executive director of the company and Sam Lazar Riviello to head of operations and events. In her new role as executive director, Harrop will lead in strategic planning, editorial decision-making and the building of new partnerships and initiatives.

“I couldn’t be more excited to take on this new role at Sandbox Films, a company that I helped build from the ground up with a mission I care deeply about,” Harrop said. “We are working to reinvent the science documentary genre and make science stories more accessible to people who don’t seek out science content. I am proud to collaborate with an incredible team and with such talented independent artists, and I am so grateful for the generous support of the Simons Foundation that allows us to do this work.”

Under Harrop’s leadership, Sandbox will expand the following programs:

  • Sandbox Fund | Sundance Institute: Building on the tremendous work accomplished by this program over the past seven years, we are excited to increase the Sandbox Fund’s granting pool to $500 million per year. Since its inception, the fund has witnessed a 500 percent increase in the number of project submissions from all around the globe. This program expansion will allow the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program (DFP) and Sandbox Films teams to award more sizable grants and support a larger number of artists. During these turbulent times for the independent film ecosystem, such intervention felt necessary.

    “We are thrilled to strengthen our collaboration with our partners at Sandbox Films,” said Paola Mottura, the director of the Sundance Documentary Fund. “By broadening the reach and deepening the impact of the Sandbox Fund | Sundance Institute Fund, we look forward to elevating the vision of artists from all around the world who are redefining ‘science film’ through innovative, bold and risk-taking documentaries.”

  • Sandbox Salons: Sandbox will also grow its initiatives to bring scientists and filmmakers together in a new Sandbox Salon series. The series will consist of intimate gatherings thrown at the new Sandbox offices and will center around discussions of challenging and thought-provoking scientific questions. These Salons will expand on the annual Camp Sandbox retreat which takes place every fall, bringing 15 scientists and 15 filmmakers together for a long weekend of idea sharing.

Sandbox Films is an editorially independent subsidiary of the Simons Foundation in New York City. Simons Foundation president David Spergel said, “Sandbox Films is an important part of our Science, Society & Culture division. We aim to transform people’s relationship with science, and a great film can change our connection to the world around us.”

“We are excited for Jessica to take on this new role,” Spergel added. “She has been an integral part of the growth of the company, and we look forward to its many continued successes.”

In addition to expanded initiatives, Sandbox Films will continue to elevate its existing and upcoming film slate. The studio currently has approximately 20 films in development and production, collaborating with artists from all over the world, including co-productions with A24 and Darren Aronofsky’s Protozoa. Upcoming productions also include a new shorts series in partnership with NYTimes Op-Docs, to be announced soon.

Riviello, the new head of operations and events, said, “It is an exhilarating moment for Sandbox Films! Under Jessica’s astute stewardship, we’re cultivating more dynamic partnerships, empowering the independent documentary community with resources driven by their needs and delivering awe-inspiring science documentaries to audiences worldwide—all while upholding the exceptional standards that define our studio.

Additional upcoming releases include the Sundance film Nocturnes, to be released theatrically later this year. Nocturnes won the Special Jury prize for World Documentary Craft at Sundance and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Hellas Award at Thessaloniki, and went on to play at CPHDOX, HotDocs, and more. The film is the first to be mixed in the Sandbox offices on their new Dolby Atmos sound stage. Also to be released this year is festival favorite Confessions of a Good Samaritan, directed by award-winning filmmaker Penny Lane, which had its world premiere at the 2023 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film & TV Festival.

Sandbox will continue to run its operations from its New York headquarters. The Sandbox space was built with filmmakers in mind. Film teams may take residency in edit suites with the Dolby Atmos sound stage and screening room.

Jessica Harrop is an Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning producer who has dedicated her career to illuminating the art and beauty of scientific inquiry. She played a pivotal role in launching and growing Sandbox Films, joining the team before the company’s official formation. Serving for the past five years as Sandbox’s head of production and development, Harrop was instrumental in growing the slate of films and played a major role in all productions, including Sara Dosa’s Oscar-nominated Fire of Love. Before Sandbox Films, she worked as a freelance showrunner, producer and writer for science television, always looking for new ways to creatively tell science stories.

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