Documentary Film Program

How to Apply

The 2015 Documentary Fund Application Period is now OPEN. Click here for the application.

Please be aware of our new application restrictions. Beginning in 2015, projects will ONLY be allowed to reapply ONE time after an unsuccessful application. The reapplication will not be accepted until a subsequent year, and projects must have advanced to another stage of production.

Application  Apply here
Dates On-Going. Films supported in March and April will be eligible for consideration for 2015 Sundance Documentary Labs.
Size of Grant Pool   40-60
  • US & International Filmmakers. 
  • Maximum two submission attempts per project.  (Sundance Documentary Film Program reserves the right to solicit projects to apply)
What Will I Need to Complete My Application?

Proposal Checklist has changed since last round. Please consult NEW guidelines.

  • Online Application Form
  • Written Proposal
  • Visual Samples
    • Completed Previous Directing Sample
    • Work-In-Progress Sample (10+ minutes for Production/Post Production)
For Additional help on preparing your materials…
Description The Sundance Documentary Fund provides grants to filmmakers worldwide for projects that display: artful film language, effective storytelling, originality and feasibility, contemporary cultural relevance, and potential to reach and connect with its intended audience. Preference is given to projects that convey clear story structure, higher stakes and contemporary relevance, forward going action or questions, demonstrated access to subjects, and quality use of film craft.
Categories of granting
  • Development (up to $20,000):There is no reel required with an application, but clips, teasers, trailers, or images are highly encouraged. A previous work sample is required.
  • Production/Post-Production (up to $50,000): Production/post-production grants provide funds to projects offering 10+ minutes of edited material for the project being proposed. The reel should convey the narrative and aesthetic approach for the final film. A previous sample work must also be included with the application.
  • Audience Engagement (up to $20,000):Audience Engagement grants provide previously granted projects funding for strategic audience and community engagement campaigns.
  • Additional Opportunities by Nomination

Apply now

Proposal Checklist

Proposal Checklist has changed since last round. Please note the NEW guidelines.

(Page limits are suggested lengths only.)

Logline (2-3 Sentences) – Provide a brief, catchy summary of your story.

Story Summary / Synopsis (Approximately 1-2 pages)
What is your story and story structure?

Give an overview of your story, introducing the main characters and potential plot points. Describe the anticipated story structure and narrative trajectory, or potential character arcs for your project. Discuss your access to the story and characters.

Topic Summary (Approximately 1-2 pages)
Why is this topic important, timely, or relevant? Why are you the best person to make a film about this?

Explain the cultural or social relevance and context for the topic, and why this project is timely or urgent. Detail the topics, issues, themes, challenges, stakes, or questions that your project will cover.

Artistic Approach (Approximately  1/2 page)
How are you going to tell this story? 

Describe your creative vision for the finished project – its visual look and feel. Explain your intended use of cinematic language or any particular artistic approach that informs the storytelling.  If applicable, mention any creative elements and assets, interactive elements, new technologies or non-traditional mediums that you intend to utilize. Explain how these elements will enhance the experience and interaction between viewers and the world of the story.

Project Stage (Approximately 1 paragraph)

Explain the current status of the project. Outline the projected production timeline from the project’s current state to the anticipated completion date.  Your timeline should cover both the creative and production processes and should detail major project activities, production schedules, and anticipated post production and release dates. If you have applied before, please share how your project has progressed since the last time your applied.

Key Creative Personnel (Approximately  1 paragraph/bio)

Provide brief biographies (50-150 words) for the director(s), and if attached, the producer(s), cinematographer, or editor. Include notable credits and/or major recognition or award information.  For each key creative, include information about relevant expertise and the individual’s role in the project.  Do not send resumes, CVs or extensive filmographies. Bullet list any other advisors or consultants, if applicable.

Audience and Distribution Strategies (1 paragraph for each)

  • Distribution and Marketing Strategy
    Characterize the intended distribution life for your film.  Specify plans for festival, theatrical, and/or community screenings, as well as plans for securing national broadcast and/or distribution

  • Intended Audience
    Describe the anticipated audience for your project, including any underserved audiences. How do you plan to reach your target audience? How have you addressed the needs and interests of this audience in your film? What is your relationship and access to this community?

  • Audience Engagement and Social Impact (if applicable)
    Audience Engagement is a strategy designed to activate audiences and constituencies toward a specific goal. Not all films are suited for social engagement, but if yours is, what actions do you hope for viewers to take after seeing your film? Potential activities could include organizational partnerships, educational guides, targeted stakeholder/community screenings, social media strategies, multi-platform activity, or social change campaigns. Do you have partnerships with organizations in your issue area already, and if so, how are these relationships informing your project development?

Visual Sample
Please provide links and passwords for both samples  in your written proposal.

  • Director's Prior Work (1 paragraph) (required)
    The director’s previous work (any length or genre) is required. If a prior directing sample is not available, you may submit a film you have shot or edited. Alternatively, previous work from a key creative on the team will also be accepted. Note: A directing sample is not required for Audience Engagement applications. 

    Describe the sample you have submitted, including its narrative, aesthetic, or communication intentions. Discuss the relevance of the work  to the current project, if any. If the current project is a departure from the prior work, how will this film differ?

  • Current Sample/Rough Cut (1 paragraph)
    Required for production/post-production grant applications

    Provide necessary background and/or context for the work-in-progress. What should reviewers be looking for in your sample? Explain what is present or absent in the sample, and how it will differ as a finished film. How is it representative of the intended story, style, subject, or other aspect of the project?  If you submitted a rough cut, what additional scenes do you need?

    • Director's Prior Work LINK AND PASSWORD
      Current Sample/Rough Cut: LINK AND PASSWORD

Financial Info (1 paragraph for each)

  • Fundraising Strategy
    Describe the strategy for raising the additional funds necessary to complete the project. Include all sources and amounts raised to date. Clearly distinguish between potential sources of funding and secured amounts. List the status of other sources of funding currently under consideration, whether to be applied for or pending.

    Foundation A ………            $X Secured
    Private Investment A………  $X Secured
    Foundation B ……….           $X Applied
    Broadcast License A ………. $X In Negotiation
    Crowdfunding ……….          $X In Process ( Campaign end date MM/DD/YY)

  • Grant Impact
    Amount requested? If you were to receive a grant, describe how the funds would be spent.  In light of your total budget, how would these funds help you move forward with your project?

Comprehensive Line Item Expense Budget
Please list a breakdown of all expenses from development through release in U.S. dollars, including a grand budget total. You may view a sample budget by clicking here (pdf, excel). This sample budget is provided as a reference tool only, you may use your own budget format.

Contact Information
Please provide complete contact information including a valid email address, telephone number and mailing address (in the country’s format). Contact information should be valid until AT LEAST December, 2015.

Audience Engagement Checklist


Grants are available for strategic activities that use your film as a tool to create social or cultural impact. Competitive projects are those that activate audiences and stakeholders with the issues in the film, and invite action and change. Strategies may be extremely simple, targeted and focused, or may have several components of a broad and far reaching campaign.

Grants range up to $20,000 and may fund an entire, discrete activity or may be a small part of a larger effort. Available only to current Sundance Documentary Film Program (DFP) grantees at any stage of pre-production, production and distribution, grants can be applied for through our Rolling Open Call. Grants are available for either PLANNING or for IMPLEMENTATION & EVALUATION.


  • Type A:  Audience Engagement PLANNING
  • PLANNING GRANTS help you consult with topic/issue advisors to determine goals and outcomes; devise strategy; convene or interview partners or stakeholders; Audience identification and segmentation; Impact and evaluation planning (including determining base line data).
  • IMPLEMENTATION & EVALUATION GRANTS help you produce tools, technology, or materials; travel to campaign specific sites;  conduct community screenings not covered by broadcasters, distributors or speaker’s bureaus; impact evaluation and measurement, other.


For information purposes only,  we request background information on your distribution activities. For additional help distinguishing distribution or marketing activity from audience engagement, please consider this Fledgling Fund article.

Distribution Background Facts
Please list current distribution agreements for your film, if any. List only secured distribution agreements. If you are still in process on the film or have no distribution agreements you are still eligible to apply for funds. 

  • Domestic or International broadcast agreements 
  • Sales agents attached
  • Festival premieres (international and national)
  • National level awards
  • Theatrical distributors
  • Home video distributors
  • Educational video distributors
  • Direct/Digital distribution with online vendors
  • Self distribution on your own website URL
  • Short-form content based on the film
  • Other
  • Rights remaining?


Lengths are suggested, not required. Please use your existing materials.

  1. STRATEGY (approximately 2-4 paragraphs)
  2. PARTNERS (approximately 1 paragraph plus list)
  3. TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES (approximately 1-2 paragraphs)
  4. TIMELINE AND SUSTAINABILITY (approximately 1-2 paragraphs)
  5. EVALUATION (approximately 1 paragraph)


You do NOT NEED to answer these reflection questions in your proposal, and you may have an entirely different strategy! The questions are designed to help you probe more deeply into your strategic design.


  • What are the primary problems illuminated by the film?
  • What is the source of the problems? (greenhouse gases, campaign finance, health insurance industry, military industrial complex, gender, racial or sexual disparities in health, wealth, education or public accommodation law? Other)
  • What accomplishable change might make things improved? (Unless you have a big team/budget/timeline, consider narrowing your focus to something impactful, but bite sized.)
  • Who has the capacity to make concrete changes? (legislature, corporation, teachers, grocery stores, regulatory bodies, etc.)
  • Who can put pressure on this target? (voters, shoppers, share holders, professional associations or credentialing bodies, the affected community, a proxy community, etc.)
  • How might you inspire viewers to reach the target and their constituents? What might you ask viewers to do?
  • Would different audiences need distinct messages and suggested actions?
  • Is there a menu of actions for distinct audiences?
  • Is this engagement activity created with or supported by your partner organizations?


  • What are the primary problems illuminated by the film?
  • What is the source of the problems? (greenhouse gases, campaign finance, health insurance industry, military industrial complex, gender, racial or sexual disparities in health, wealth, education or public accommodation law? Other)
  • Is the problem understood by many or few?
  • What values underlie problem (Poverty is the fault of the poor, domestic violence is a private problem).
  • What target group needs to feel invested in a cultural change in addition to those afflicted by the problem?
  • What values matter to your new target group? (Fairness, independence, family values, religious sanctity, law and order, American Dream, resourcefulness, etc.)
  • Can you harness those values to move cultural understanding of the problem?
  • How can you increase a sense of shared responsibility for the problem, and shared benefit from its solution (“Black Lives Matter”, “Je Suis Charlie”, “No H8”, “It Gets Better”, “Don’t be a Litter Bug”, etc?
  • What other cultural interventions might be employed (new super hero? Celebrity affiliation, etc.?)
  • Is this strategy created with or supported by your partner organizations?


  • Considering your strategic purpose or goals, which organizations are working in this arena with whom you might partner?
  • What type of organization are they? (membership, advocacy, policy/research, media, entrepreneurial, technological, educational, legal, etc. )
  • How could your film and campaign align with or forward their work?
  • How could the organization advance your campaign?
  • Please indicate whether partners are secured, approached, or intended.


Concisely describe tools or techniques you will utilize, if known.  Why is the tool or technique you selected the most effective way to achieve your vision? The list below is merely descriptive, not exhaustive, and some projects may use none of these.

  • 2D Engagement Material (study guides, quizzes, maps)
  • Interactive Technology (apps, games, interactive maps, “augmented” reality, avatars,)
  • Onsite activity  (targeted screenings (legislators, doctors), specially edited modules, site specific installation)
  • Product or Environmental Design (LED flashlights, solar cook pots, improved mosquito nets, public spaces/urban gardens.)
  • Social Entrepreneurship (micro-loans, mobile phone banking, “green” burials, mobile produce vans)
  • Community philanthropy (donate socks to border crossers, books or glasses to disadvantaged communities)


  • What is the intended time frame and why (three months? two years?) 
  • Are any “audiences” or communities engaged prior to seeing your completed film?
  • How will you know when your campaign is complete?
  • If your engagement project is not fully funded, what is the scaled down version of activity that would still reach a specific goal?
  • If significant opportunity to amplify impact were to arise, is there a scaled up version?
  • How might the work might continue after your engagement activity is completed and funding has ceased? Is there a partner who might take it over, if needed?


  • How will you define, and then measure, success? Consider impact on partners, audiences, or the constituency represented by the film subjects. You may measure anything in any way that best demonstrates your goals and outcomes.
  • Do you have baseline data (or partners that can provide data) against which to measure impact?  Tools or techniques for baseline determination might include analytic tools and data sets; publicly available references including press coverage and Google analytics. Consider measuring cultural change impact through language use or modification (Global Language Monitor, etc.), entertainment industry reflections (action heroes not smoking), viewer testimonies, anecdotal evidence, etc. This list is descriptive not directive.
  • Do you intend to produce an evaluation dashboard?


KEY PERSONNEL (1 paragraph each)
Provide BRIEF biographies (approximately 50-150 words) for key personnel or consultants who will plan, implement or evaluate audience engagement activity. Please indicate their role. DO NOT send resumes, CVs, brochures or extensive filmographies.


  • What is the total budget amount in $US for Audience Engagement activity?
  • What is the total funds secured (if any) in $US for this activity?
  • What are the sources of those secured funds (list)?
  • Where will you seek additional funds? (list)?
  • What amount are you requesting from Sundance Documentary Fund?

Please give a line item breakdown of expenses for Audience Engagement activity in U.S. dollars. A sample Audience Engagement budget is available for download here (PDF, Excel).

Recent examples of successful Sundance DFP audience engagement awards include:

  • Invisible War
    Director: Kirby Dick
    Invisible War documents the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military, the institutions that perpetuate and cover up its existence, and its profound personal and social consequences. The Audience Engagement grant will help support and evaluate a campaign to engage the U.S. Department of Defense, specifically encouraging measures to radically reduce sexual assault rates, prosecute perpetrators, and support survivors.

  • Girl Model
    Directors: Ashley Sabin and David Redmon
    Girl Model follows a 13-year-old Siberian girl and the American scout who discovers her through the complex, global human supply chain of the unregulated and often murky world of the international modeling industry. The Audience Engagement award supports a girl-fueled campaign to encourage the Department of Labor to extend child labor protections to under age models.

  • 25 To Life
    Director: Mike Brown
    William "Reds" Brawner kept his HIV status a secret for over twenty years. Now Will seeks redemption from his nebulous and promiscuous past as he builds his own family. Audience Engagement PLANNING GRANT will be used to convene stakeholder partners, assess and revise the impact strategy. The films' outreach goals: to help decrease unsafe practices among the target population, reveal complexity in adult relationships, and dispel fear and misunderstandings surrounding the epidemic.

  • Semper Fi: Always Faithful
    Directors: Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon
    When Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger’s young daughter dies from a rare type of leukemia, his search for the cause leads him to the shocking discovery of one of the largest water contaminations in U.S. history. The audience engagement award will support the effort to help notify a million families who may be affected by contaminated water on military bases, and help support targeted screenings for legislators interested in health care for affected veterans.

  • Crime After Crime
    Director: Yoav Potash
    Two attorneys fight for the freedom of Deborah Peagler, 20 years into her life sentence for the murder of the man who abused her. The audience engagement campaign will partner with policy makers, legislative organizations, and legal education groups to inform five other states about the successful California law that allows incarcerated survivors of domestic violence to petition for their freedom.

Still have questions? Read our FAQ

Q: Do you have deadlines?
A: We have a Rolling Open. The move to a Rolling Open Call allows filmmakers to submit applications only when they can best demonstrate their artistic intent, rather than according to pre-determined deadlines. Sundance Institute reserves the right to solicit film projects at its sole discretion at any time related to Institute or Documentary Film Program priorities.

Q: At what point in my project should I apply?
A: Submit your film only when you have written or visual material that demonstrates your creative and storytelling intent. You may submit at any production phase from development through post-production. ALL proposals MUST convey some vision for a finished film. Projects that have not yet secured characters or subjects, are unable to articulate a story structure, or unable to explain the story's driving central question are discouraged. We are unable to consider proposals for story research. You do not need any prior funding or a fiscal sponsor in order to apply.

Q: What kinds of films do you support?
A: We support independent nonfiction films that display artful film language, effective storytelling, originality and feasibility, contemporary cultural relevance, and potential to reach and connect with its intended audience.

Q: What are some specific examples of films you have funded?
A: Recently supported films include CitizenFour, The Square, The Queen of Versailles, The Invisible War, and Art and Craft.

Q: Is there an application fee to apply?
A: No. It is free to apply.


Q: Who should apply?
A: Independent filmmakers making cinematic non-fiction films from anywhere in the world are welcome to submit project proposals. Films may be in any language with English subtitles or transcript. First time filmmakers are eligible. Prior funding, fiscal sponsorship, and US producers are not requirements.

Q: I am a filmmaker from a country outside of the U.S. am I eligible to apply?
A: Yes. We support Filmmakers globally without restriction.

Q: Is my project eligible for funding?
A: We fund projects that are Feature Length Documentaries (52 minutes and longer). Hybrid/animated, and experimental documentaries are also eligible to apply.

We do NOT fund:

  • Fiction films
  • Short films

Q: Are short films eligible for funding?
A: No. We currently only fund projects that will range in length from full broadcast hour (52-56 minutes, depending on the intended outlet) to long format features. However, full length films that will conduct versioning for educational modules, multi-platform purposes, or community engagement etc. are eligible overall.

Q: I am making a movie based on true events. Is my project eligible for funding?
A: Fiction films, even based on true events, are not eligible to apply. If your characters are actors, or are reading a script, it is probably not a documentary film (re-enacted segments are fine as a small portion of a larger documentary film).

Q: My project is finished. Can I apply for funding to pay for film transfers or reimburse debt, etc.?
A: No. Tape to film transfers, film prints and debt reimbursement to complete work are NOT eligible for funding. We generally do not provide solely completion funding.

Q: I do not have any funds secured to date, am I still eligible for funding?
A: Yes. Prior funding commitments are not required. Your written proposal should include a Fundraising Strategy for raising funds for your film, irrespective of a Sundance Institute Documentary Fund grant. In addition to foundations and broadcast license agreements, you might include private donations, in-kind support, crowd sourcing, producer investment, and fundraisers. In your Fundraising Strategy, you should clearly distinguish between funds you have applied for and funds you have already secured.


Q: I am already into production but do not have a 10 minute sample, am I still eligible for funding?
A: You may apply for funding in the Development category or choose to wait to apply until you have the necessary material. Production/Post-Production proposals with very short reels (or with only trailers, teasers, or brief selects) are simply not competitive against the longer rough cuts being submitted.

Q: I am a first time director. May I send in someone else’s work as my Completed Prior Work?
A: A visual sample that conveys the director's storytelling ability is preferred. If this is a directorial debut, you may submit a film you have shot or edited instead, or a previous work from a key creative member of the team (e.g. editor, cinematographer), will also be accepted.

Q: How long does my completed prior work have to be?
A: Completed prior work may be any length from short to feature. It may be in any genre. You must submit it in its entirety. We will not consider segments of different projects on one reel as the Directing Sample. If you have multiple prior works, or several co-directors, please select one previous work which best reflects the vision for your new documentary.

Q: Other than the Work-In-Progress sample and the Prior Directing Sample, are there any other video clips or samples that I need to provide?
A: No.

Q. What format should I submit my visual material in?
A: We ONLY accept samples via online streaming links. You MUST provide an online streaming link and password to your current rough cut/sample, and to your prior directing sample. We recommend using Vimeo ( for this service. When you register and upload your files, make your film downloadable. Your film should be available FOR AT LEAST 6 MONTHS after you submit your application. Please do not update or change your uploaded file or its password once you submit your application.

When you apply for a grant through our website, paste in your Vimeo link and password. Please double check that you have entered the password correctly (remembering that Vimeo passwords are case sensitive). If we do not have the correct password, we will not be able to evaluate your project. Include the Vimeo link and password in your written proposal, as well. Please note, we do not accept WeTransfer, Drop Box or other such file transfer services for the visual material delivery.

Q: Can I submit my visual samples on DVD?
A: No. All samples MUST be submitted as a link via a streaming platform such as Vimeo or Youtube. NO DVDs will be accepted NO DVDs will be accepted. IF you live in a country with significant impediments to internet access, you may email to request a DVD exemption.


Q: What is meant by "Contemporary Cultural Relevance"?
A: Please articulate what is timely and significant about your story, and how the stakes matter not only for your primary character but for broader audiences or contemporary cultures as well.

Q: What is a Story Summary?
A: The Story Summary (or narrative synopsis) should convey the film's story and story structure. Describe the primary characters or subjects and their potential journey, the mission, stakes, central question and possible outcomes. You are welcome to describe any important artistic elements or creative approaches.

Q: What is a Distribution/Marketing Strategy?
A: Outline the intended festival, theatrical, broadcast, home video, or educational distribution for your project. Your distribution/marketing strategy should be a concrete explanation of the best outlets for your particular film, and what you will do to have your film reach its intended audience. You do not need secured agreements in order to include them in your proposed strategy.

Q: What is meant by Audience Engagement?
A: Audience Engagement is a strategic campaign to encourage individuals and communities to move from passive to active participants on the issue your film broaches. Engagement campaigns are distinct from distribution (which puts films on screens), and from marketing and outreach (alerting viewers to see films). Rather, engagement is designed to activate audiences and stakeholders toward a specific goal. Not all films are necessarily suited for social engagement.

Q: What is a Fundraising Strategy?
A: Your Fundraising Strategy is your plan for raising your film budget. In addition to grants and broadcast license agreements, you might include private donations, in-kind support, crowd sourcing, producer investment, and fundraisers. A Fundraising Strategy should clearly distinguish between funds you have applied for and funds you have already secured.

Q: How long should the written materials be?
A: We appreciate clear and concise language that still richly explains the intended film. The guidelines in the Proposal Checklist are suggestive. There is no word count limit.

Q: Does my proposal have to be in English?
A: Yes. We can only consider proposals written in English, accompanied by a budget translated into USD, and visual material in English or with English subtitles or transcript.

Q: If I am applying for Development Funds, can my budget cover the Development portion of the project only?
A: No. A budget covering the costs of the ENTIRE project from development through distribution is required for every funding category. This is a 1-2 page comprehensive line item budget in US dollars. If you have never made a budget and need a sample, you may access one here (PDF, excel). This document is only a general sample, and should be tailored to your project. You may also use your own budget format, so long as it provides the costs of the entire project.


Q: How are decisions regarding funding made?
A: Proposals go through a multi-stage review, with selected submissions sent for Sundance Documentary Fund Committee consideration. The Committee then meets to make recommendations regarding which projects are funded. Proposals to the Sundance Documentary Fund are evaluated on artful or innovative film language, clear storytelling, originality and feasibility, contemporary cultural relevance, and potential to reach and connect with its intended audience.

Q: Who makes up the Committee?
A: The Sundance Development Fund Committee is a combination of Human Rights experts and professional film artists. Past panelist have included Laura Silber (Open Society Foundation), Terry McGovern (Ford Foundation), Richard Pena (Film Society of Lincoln Center), Alan Jenkins (Opportunity Agenda), Cynthia Lopez (P.O.V.), and Academy Award nominees Arthur Dong, Kirby Dick, Jessica Yu, Rob Epstein, and Marshall Curry.

Q: What percentage of applications are actually funded?
A: The review process is highly competitive. We review up to 2000 proposals annually, but will generally fund no more than 60. We fund between 3-4% of submissions.

Q: How will I know if the Fund has received my proposal?
A: After you press submit on the online application, a confirmation page will appear. You should also receive a confirmation email once your application is submitted. If you have not received an email, please double check your spam filter and setting.

Q: When will I find out if I have been awarded a grant?
A: Award decisions take two to six months. Please do not contact us to inquire about your status, as we can not provide status updates. You will be notified by mail or email once a decision has been made. In 2015, applicants will be notified on a rolling basis, as decisions are made.

Q: If my project is declined, will staff provide feedback?
A: No. Unfortunately, we have a very limited staff, and are unable to provide feedback.

Q: May I reapply for a grant if my proposal is declined?
A: Yes. However, we will only accept a total of two (2) applications per project, so you may only reapply one (1) time with the same project. Additionally, you may ONLY reapply when your project has advanced to a further stage of production. You may not apply multiple times within the same stage of production. (e.g. A project in Development that is declined may apply once more, for either Production or Pre-Production funds. An unsuccessful application for Production funds may reapply for Post-Production.) A project that applied for Post-Production may apply in Post-Production again, provided that the project had not applied before.) Given the number of submissions received too early and resubmitted too quickly, filmmakers are strongly discouraged from submitting nearly identical proposals twice.

Please Note: This restriction will not apply retroactively. Filmmakers who have already applied unsuccessfully with the same project twice, prior to 2015, may apply with that project one (1) more time.

Q: If my proposal is declined, what are the chances my project will be accepted if I reapply?
A: We do not encourage the resubmission of projects that have previously been declined, as they are unlikely to be successful, unless they have significantly advanced the visual sample, story, and structure, as well as elevated and refined the artistry of the approach in order to demonstrate the merits of the film and the director’s aesthetic intent.

Q: If I choose to reapply, do I need to submit a complete proposal online?
A: Yes. Should you choose to reapply, please apply online during our Open Call. Your new submission should reflect significant development of the project since last applying, corresponding with a later stage of production. You must submit new video links accompanying your proposal.

Q: Can I submit more than one proposal per cycle?
A: Yes, you are allowed to submit more than one proposal in the same round as long as they are for separate projects.

Q: If I apply at the beginning of the Open Call period and my project is declined, may I re-apply later in the Open Call period?
A: No. You may not apply with the same project multiple times within the same year. If you would like to reapply, you will need to wait for the next Open Call period the following year.

Q: If I apply for Development funding during this round and I get selected, can I apply for Production or Post-Production funds during the next round?
A: If you are awarded a grant for one stage of production, you are still eligible to apply in a different stage, but only after significant further production activity, usually in a subsequent year.

Q. Can I provide project updates once my application is submitted?
A. No. Unfortunately due to the volume of projects that we receive, we are unable to accept unsolicited updates to proposals or rough cuts. Please do not apply until your project is ready for review. Updates will not be processed and will not be considered in the evaluation of your project. Note, the Documentary Film Program reserves the right to request updates from projects at its sole discretion at any time during the round.

Q: If I receive a grant or award from another source, am I still eligible to apply for Sundance Funding?
A: Yes.

Q: If I receive a grant from Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, will my film screen at the Sundance Film Festival?
A: No. Grantees are encouraged to submit their completed work for festival consideration directly to the Program staff of the Sundance Film Festival, which selects films independently. Similarly, projects not selected for support by the Sundance Documentary Fund remain eligible to apply for the Sundance Film Festival directly.

Q: Does receiving a grant from Sundance Institute Documentary Fund preclude me from working with any broadcaster or distributor?
A: No. Sundance Institute Documentary Fund awards are grants to the artist and do not encumber broadcast, theatrical, or DVD distribution rights in your project. Grants are generally considered partial support, and projects generally must seek other funding as well as license and distribution agreements in order to realize their budget.

Q: If I receive a grant, what are the terms of the contract?
A: Grants are not recoupable, and none of your exploitable rights are encumbered. Our contract requests: acknowledgement in the end credits of the film and on your promotional materials, 6 copies of the finished film on DVD, and 1 presentation-quality master. We require narrative, financial, and distribution reports, and social impact reports, where applicable. We request your active participation in the Sundance Institute creative community through invitation-only activities to support you and your film, as well as to support other filmmakers and the independent film field globally.

Q: What subject category does my film fall into?
A:The subject of your film should convey the general issue area that your film addresses. Although your film may fit into a number of subjects, we ask that you choose one that best represents your film. Below are our six subject areas with a brief description:

  • Cultural activity and freedom of expression Films that highlight the existence of the arts and sport for community, access to knowledge and the pursuit of creative endeavors.
  • Democracy, Peace and Security, Human Rights Projects working to highlight and understand human dignity and the fundamental right to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being. Work that addresses peace and security and/or focuses on the right of people to assemble, advocate or participate in democratic practices, among others.
  • Economic Justice and Equity Subjects that encompass the moral principles that guide the design of our economic institutions and fairness through all segments of society.
  • Environmental Sustainability Films dealing with the environment, ecology, natural resource extraction. biodiversity, conservation, climate change, green jobs among others.
  • Institutional and Government Responsibility Projects seeking to highlight the institutional responsibility or promote greater transparency and accountability of corporations, governments, foundations, religious and educational institutions and other powerful interests.
  • Vulnerable Populations, Tolerance and Social Inclusion Projects that address discrimination, persecution and the lives of people from diverse communities and points of view. Projects highlighting the lives of groups that are not well integrated into society because of ethnic, cultural, economic, geographic or health characteristics.

Q: May I ask you to review an element of my proposal before I apply? For example, my website, trailer, or synopsis?
A: No. We only review complete proposals submitted through our web upload.

Q: I still have questions. Can I call or Skype with you to discuss my film?
A: No. Unfortunately, we are unable to respond to inquiries about our application process via telephone or skype. If you have read the entire FAQ and you still have specific questions, please email and we will be happy to try and answer them.

Q: Where can I find additional answers to questions?
A: You may send an email query with specific questions to Please understand that we cannot provide status updates. If we need additional information we will contact you.

Labs & On-Going Support

Creative Labs bring together a community of world ­class documentary directors, editors and producers to support the development of Documentary Fund grantee projects from around the world. Labs are eight­ day intensive residential retreats where the art of nonfiction storytelling is engaged in with rigor and candor. All Documentary Labs are by invitation only.

Documentary Edit and Story Labs


Application By Invitation
Dates Late June & Early July
Size of Lab 4 Projects per lab (Director and Editor Teams)
Location Sundance Resort, Utah
Eligibility Open to Sundance Documentary Fund grant recipients
Description Projects in the later stages of post-production share their rough cuts in a collegial but rigorous environment. Teams work closely with creative advisors, emerging editors, and staff to address issues of story structure and character development.
Music and Sound Design Lab at Skywalker Sound: Documentary


Application By Invitation
Dates September 15-23, 2014
Size of Lab 4 Projects
Location Skywalker Sound, CA
Eligibility Open to Documentary Fund grant recipients
Description Documentary filmmakers, emerging film music composers, and Skywalker Sound affiliated sound designers are paired together in a spirit of experimentation to explore possibilities for music and sound design in documentary film. Teams select and create original cues for 1-2 scenes from their works-in-progress at Skywalker Sound’s world-class facilities.
Documentary Fellows Program at the Sundance Film Festival


Application By Invitation
Dates During Sundance Film Festival (January)
Size of Lab 10 Projects
Location Park City, Utah
Eligibility Open to Documentary Fund grant recipients
Description Invited projects participate in a curated six-day program of industry meetings, pitch training, case studies, screenings, and panels.
Creative Producing Lab


Application By Invitation
Dates July 27-31, 2015
Size of Lab 6 Projects
Location Sundance Resort, Utah
Eligibility Open to Documentary Fund grant recipients
Description Producers in the later stages of post-production work closely with Advisors to develop critical producing skills and strategize around the release of their film in a safe, nurturing environment. .
New Frontier Story Lab


The New Frontier Story Lab offers interdisciplinary support to artists at the convergence of film, art, media, live performance, music and technology. With the philosophy that story is at the heart of all narrative endeavors, this Lab supports artists who are developing interactive, immersive, or experimental projects that aim to create rich and resonant experiences for audiences. Projects supported by this Lab can take many forms, but the common goal is to innovate the art and form of story. Learn More

Artist Support via #ArtistServices


#ArtistServices helps alumni answer the question “what happens after I’ve made my movie?” Our programs empower independent filmmakers to maintain creative control of their distribution, amplifying their reach and revenue potential in the process. Through an unprecedented collection of deals, partnerships, strategy, and resources, ArtistServices gives every Institute-supported film robust access to best-in-class digital distribution deals, creative funding tactics, and marketing support/p>


Sundance Institute’s Catalyst Initiative connects forward-thinking investors with the world of independent film, with the intention of envisioning film finance in a new light. Learn More

Creative Partnerships

The Documentary Film Program has established a portfolio of innovative field-building creative partnerships and international collaborations that benefit the global documentary community. These strategic initiatives provide funding and networking opportunities for established filmmakers, and support and mentorship emerging international artists. Activities include, convenings, workshops, solicited requests for proposals and one-on-one meetings. Partnerships include:

Stories of Change | Skoll Foundation

Stories of Change is a multi-year initiative of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and the Skoll Foundation that brings together the power of independent storytelling with the impact of social entrepreneurship. Launched in 2007 this year, the initiative is expanding with an additional $2.5 million grant from the Skoll Foundation to include support for narrative filmmakers, new media artists, and continued support for documentary storytelling. In addition to funding the creation of new projects highlighting the work of global change-makers addressing the world's most pressing problems, the initiative brings together leaders in both independent filmmaking and social entrepreneurship at key gatherings globally, including the Skoll World Forum (SWF), the Sundance Film Festival, and intensive workshops at the Sundance Resort.

Learn more about Stories of Change...

Sundance Short Film Challenge | Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation


As technology advances, our world grows smaller. Yet, while we are more connected than ever before, we remain separated by the lottery of where we are born. Around the world, people just like you – with the same beliefs, dreams, and aspirations – have drastically fewer opportunities due to extreme poverty and hunger. Through the universal power of storytelling, the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge will put a spotlight on our similarities—showcasing stories that communicate how we can support one another to end poverty and hunger once and for all. There is a more hopeful future for millions of people around the world, it’s up to us to inspire a positive change together. Learn More

Workshop and Documentary Summit | CNEX


Partners since 2010, the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program | CNEX Workshop and Documentary Summit in Beijing has taken place in the spring in 2011 and 2012 and is projected for spring 2013. Each year, 10 invited Chinese documentary project teams from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan participate in the immersive multi-day workshop and summit. Designed by the DFP in collaboration with CNEX, the DFP invites international advisors offers workshops designed to nurture documentary storytelling and encourage the diverse exchange of ideas. Activities include one-on-one creative feedback meetings, pitch sessions, discussions with international advisors, presentations, panels, and productive discussions for larger audiences of artists, film professionals, broadcasters, educators, cultural leaders, and stakeholders. The subsequent Documentary Summit is a one-day, public schedule of panel discussions on topics of direct relevance to Chinese documentary filmmakers, such as crowd funding and international best practices. International advisors have included Robb Moss (Secrecy, Jean Tsien (Music from the HeartHollywood Chinese, Ruby Yang (The Blood of Yingzhou District), and Andrea Meditch (Buck). Each year, $25,000 in granting is available to participating projects. (

Good Pitch | BRITDOC


Launched at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival as a partnership between the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and the UK-based BritDoc Foundation, Good Pitch brings together filmmakers with NGOs, foundations, philanthropists, brands, and media around leading social issues to forge coalitions and campaigns that are good for all these partners, good for the films, and good for society. To date, more than 90 documentary projects have been presented at Good Pitch events in London, Oxford, New York, Washington D.C., Toronto, San Francisco, and Johannesburg. In that time, more than 1,500 organizations have attended and over $3 million dollars raised in additional funding and resources for participating films. For more information on BritDoc and GoodPitch visit their website

TED Prize Filmmaker Award


Sundance Institute and TED believe in the power of non-fiction storytelling, and are announcing an initiative to create a short film and multi-platform campaign around the annual TED Prize winner with the goal of raising awareness of the work of the TED Prize winner. Click for more information.


Advice for Filmmakers

The Sundance Documentary Film program believes that artful storytelling can transform conversations and cultures. Through our non-recoupable grants and artist support opportunities, we seek to engage with fresh voices and veterans in the field who are pursuing financially viable nonfiction projects with clear and forward going storytelling, strong artistic vision and the potential to reach an audience. Our staff can be found attending Forums and Festivals around the globe in the hopes of connecting with filmmakers and artists and we are always available via email at

Support for the Documentary Film Program

Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program is made possible by founding support from Open Society Foundations. Generous additional support is provided by Skoll Foundation; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Ford Foundation; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; The Charles Engelhard Foundation; Hilton Worldwide; The Rockefeller Foundation; Arcus Foundation; TED; Time Warner Foundation; CNN Films; the Joan and Lewis Platt Foundation; Compton Foundation; Threshold Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Candescent Films; Kenneth Cole Productions; the J.A. & H.G. Woodruff, Jr. Charitable Trust; Nancy Blachman and David desJardins; and the S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney Foundation.

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