In the world of low-budget, independent filmmaking, sound is often the very last thing on a filmmaker’s mind.

“There’s never enough time and money to accomplish the vision the filmmaker has,” explains Dolby® Institute director Glenn Kiser. “The director and producer are just focused on getting the movie shot, and by the time they get to sound and music, the money is usually long gone.”

The Dolby Institute launched at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival with the goal of reaching out to content creators working in all media and offering technology and training to help them use sound and picture more creatively in telling their stories. “Part of our mission is to educate and inspire artists in the use of these tools,” Kiser said. “But we also realized that there will be artists out there already pushing boundaries with sound and picture, but in need of some support to accomplish the potential in their projects.”

With that reality in mind, the Dolby Institute has partnered with the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund to create the Dolby Family Sound Fellowship, a direct grant to a filmmaker to use in postproduction for a feature film project—narrative or documentary—that highlights the creative use of sound as a storytelling tool. The first winner of the fellowship is writer-director Mike Cahill’s film I Origins, about a molecular biologist and his lab partner who uncover evidence that may fundamentally change society as we know it.

The fellowship will allow Cahill and the team making I Origins to significantly augment the film’s sound design and mix time already under way at Skywalker Sound in Marin County, California. “This grant will allow the film to be designed with immersive sound in mind, and the mix will be done in Dolby Atmos from day one,” explained Kiser. “That approach is creatively much better for the film than taking an existing 5.1 track and remixing for Dolby Atmos later.” A native Dolby Atmos™ mix can be used to create 5.1- and 7.1-channel surround sound versions that can be played back in theatres not equipped with Dolby Atmos.

“I’m grateful to Sundance Institute and Dolby for this incredible opportunity,” said writer-director Mike Cahill. “The film begins as an intimate, personal story and expands both visually and conceptually as it drives toward its climax. Dolby and the artists at Skywalker Sound will allow us to chart that expansion through sound in a way we never would have been able to otherwise.”

“Mike understands the importance of sound in storytelling,” said sound designer Steve Boeddeker (All Is Lost, Alice in Wonderland), “so we’re all excited to make use of the extra time and resources that the Dolby fellowship will give us to envelop the audience in the sights and sounds of I Origins. Mixing in Dolby Atmos will play a huge part in that.”

David Dolby, a member of the Dolby Laboratories board of directors, said that I Origins is a perfect choice for the first fellowship award. “We were looking to support the next generation of independent filmmakers by identifying new films with potential for a really inventive use of sound, but lacking in the resources to accomplish their creative vision,” Dolby said. “I Origins is exactly the kind of film that we were looking for: it needed to achieve an immersive and detailed sound environment to communicate the director’s vision, and we’re providing a boost to get it across the finish line. We hope that Ray Dolby’s love and appreciation for great film sound will inspire independent filmmakers to focus on sound design and mixing during the creative process.”

Ray Dolby, David Dolby’s father, founded Dolby Laboratories in 1965 and earned more than 50 US patents for technologies such as noise reduction and surround sound. He died in September 2013.

Sundance Institute® provided the critical matchmaking skill, finding the right film for Dolby’s support. “The relationship between Dolby and Sundance goes back many years,” Kiser said. “They’ve done an amazing job with their filmmaker labs at developing new voices in film and giving critical support to projects that might not get developed through the mainstream commercial cinema business.”

Sundance Institute provided Dolby with a short list of films to consider, and the winning film was selected by a committee from both organizations in consultation with legendary sound designer and rerecording mixer Skip Lievsay. “I was very intrigued by the scale of I Origins and the potential for sound and music design,” Lievsay said. “There’s a great task in store for the sound team, to rise to the epic challenge of the world Mike Cahill has created.”

I Origins will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival® on January 18, 2014.