Documentary Film Program


  • The Documentary Fund is accepting submissions until June 29, 2020, at 11:59 p.m. PDT for the Winter 2020 grant cycle.

    The Sundance Institute Documentary Fund has two grant cycles per year, with decisions being made in the summer and winter. The Winter 2020 round of grant-making decisions is slated for January.

    Where to Apply Application currently closed
    Schedule Grant-making decisions normally occur two times per year, in the summer and winter. Applications must be received approximately five months prior to a decision.
    Size of Grant Pool 40 to 50 projects per year
    Eligibility
  • We accept feature-length (52 minutes or more) nonfiction projects. The fund is open to projects and film teams from around the world.
  • What we do not fund
  • Short, fictional, NGO, or educational films. Historical or biographical films must demonstrate their broader contemporary relevance and/or innovation in form. Films that are picture-locked or scheduled to premiere before our scheduled decision are not eligible for post-production funds
  • Entry Fee
  • There are no entry fees associated with applying to the fund.
  • Requirements
  • Applicants are required to fill out our online application, which uses the documentary core application.
    Please consult our proposal checklist for required questions.
    Applicants will also be required to upload a line-item budget that covers the entire project from development to finish.
    View a sample budget: PDF, Excel. (Source: Robert Bahar)
  • Creative Considerations
  • The Sundance Institute Documentary Fund provides grants to filmmakers worldwide for feature-length projects that display artful and innovative film language and techniques, rigorous research, originality, project feasibility, contemporary cultural relevance, and the potential to reach and connect with its intended audience. When looking at multiple projects tackling the same subject, preference is given to projects that have a clearly defined structure or driving question; have notable access, angle, or directorial voice; position the issues with higher stakes; or tie to more contemporarily relevant themes. In our evaluations, we heavily weigh a filmmaker’s demonstrated access to subjects, command of the craft of filmmaking, their desire to push boundaries, and the potential for the granting amount to play a catalytic role for the film.
  • Grant Categories

    Development (up to $15,000):
    There is no reel required with an application, but access to location and characters must be confirmed. The proposal should clearly articulate a potential direction for the project and ask questions that would indicate a layered and nuanced approach. Also, we invite applications for a specific need—i.e., to shoot a test re-enactment or sample animation. If a creative technique is integral, and needs funding in order to understand how the film will work, please indicate this. Mood reels, stills, or some visual references for or depiction of the project in development are recommended. Prior work samples are strongly recommended for development applications.

    Production/Post-production (up to $40,000):

    Production grants provide funds to projects that are able to deliver to us at least 10 minutes of edited material. At least 20 minutes are required for post-production grants. The reel should convey the narrative and aesthetic approach for the final film.

  • GENERAL

    Do you have deadlines?

    The Sundance Institute Documentary Fund accepts submissions via two open calls per year, with decisions being made in the summer and winter. The deadline for our Winter 2020 grant cycle has now passed. The Sundance Documentary Fund will reopen in late Fall 2020.

    How long do your decisions take?

    Decisions typically take three to six months.

    At what point in my project should I apply?

    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 or structure, or are unable to explain the project'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.

    Once your film premieres, we are unable to provide post-production funding support. We therefore encourage applicants to apply at least six months before an anticipated premiere. Picture-locked cuts are also ineligible for post-production funding.

    What kinds of films do you support?

    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.

    What are some specific examples of films you have funded?

    Recently supported films include Always in Season; American Factory; The Edge of Democracy; Hale County This Morning, This Evening; Minding the Gap; Of Fathers and Sons; and One Child Nation. Please note: we do not fund NGO or educational films. We also tend not to fund purely historical or biographical films unless they show clear contemporary relevance or innovation in form.

    Is there an application fee to apply?

    No. It is free to apply.

    ELIGIBILITY

    Who should apply?

    Independent filmmakers making cinematic nonfiction films 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 American producers are not requirements.

    I am a filmmaker from a country outside of the U.S. Am I eligible to apply?

    Yes. We support filmmakers globally without restriction.

    Is my project eligible for funding?

    The Sundance Institute Documentary Fund supports 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 (please see our Documentary Short Film Fund call for information on grants for shorts)
    • NGO or educational films. Historical or biographical films must demonstrate their broader contemporary relevance and/or innovation in form.

    Are short films eligible for funding?

    We do not fund stand-alone short films through the Documentary Fund. However, we have an annual call for shorts through the Documentary Short Film Fund. This fund’s priorities and eligibility change annually, so please check our website for current call information.

    Are series eligible for funding?

    Yes. However, proposals for series should demonstrate especially concrete and specific plans for distribution.

    I am making a movie based on true events. Is my project eligible for funding?

    Fiction films, even based on true events, are not eligible to apply.

    My project is finished. Can I apply for funding to pay for film transfers or reimburse debt, etc.?

    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.

    I do not have any funds secured to date. Am I still eligible for funding?

    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, crowdfunding, producer investment, and fundraisers. In your fundraising strategy, you should clearly distinguish between funds you have applied for and funds you have already secured.

    VISUAL SAMPLES

    I am already in production but do not have a 10-minute sample. Am I still eligible for funding?

    You may apply for funding in the development category or choose to wait to apply until you have the necessary material. Production or 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 and will be bumped down to the development category.

    I am a first-time director. May I send in someone else’s work as my completed prior work?

    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. A previous work from a key creative member of the team (e.g., editor, cinematographer) will also be accepted.

    How long does my completed prior work have to be?

    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. Reviewers will only have time to review one sample.

    Other than the work-in-progress sample and the completed prior work sample, are there any other video clips or samples I need to provide?

    No.

    What format should I submit my visual material in?

    We only accept samples via online streaming links. You must provide an online streaming link and password, if applicable, to your current rough cut or sample and to your completed prior work . We recommend using Vimeo.com for this service. When you register and upload your files, make your film downloadable. Your film should be available for at least six 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, provide your Vimeo link and password. Please double-check that you have entered the password correctly (remembering that 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. We do not accept WeTransfer, Dropbox, or other such file transfer services for the visual material delivery.

    Can I submit my visual samples on DVD?

    No. All samples must be submitted as a link via a streaming platform such as Vimeo or Youtube. No DVDs will be accepted. If you live in a country with significant impediments to internet access, you may email dfp@sundance.org to request a DVD exemption.

    WRITTEN PROPOSAL

    What is meant by "contemporary cultural relevance"?

    Please articulate what is timely and significant about your project and how the stakes matter not only for your primary character but for broader audiences or contemporary cultures as well.

    What is a story summary?

    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 may describe any important artistic elements or creative approaches.

    What is a distribution/marketing strategy?

    Outline the intended festival, theatrical, broadcast, online, 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.

    What is meant by audience engagement or impact?

    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, which alerts 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.

    What is a fundraising strategy?

    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, crowdsourcing, producer investments, and fundraisers. A fundraising strategy should clearly distinguish between funds you have applied for and funds you have already secured.

    How long should the written materials be?

    We appreciate clear and concise language that richly explains the intended film. The guidelines in the proposal checklist are suggestions.

    Does my proposal have to be in English?

    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.

    If I am applying for development funds, can my submitted budget cover the development portion of the project only?

    No. A budget covering the costs of the entire project from development through distribution is required for every funding category. This is a one- to two-page comprehensive line-item budget in U.S. dollars. If you have never made a budget and need a sample, you may access an example here. This template is only a general sample and should be tailored to your project. You may also use your own budget format as long as it provides the costs of the entire project.

    APPLICATION PROCESS

    How are decisions regarding funding made?

    Proposals go through a multistage review, with selected submissions sent for Sundance Institute Documentary Fund Committee consideration. The committee then meets to make recommendations regarding which projects are funded. Proposals to the Sundance Institute 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.

    Who makes up the committee?

    The Sundance Institute Documentary Fund Committee is a combination of issue-area experts and professional film artists and curators. Past panelists have included Laura Silber (Open Society Foundations), Richard Peña (Film Society of Lincoln Center), and Loira Limbal (Firelight Media); filmmakers Arthur Dong, Kirby Dick, Jessica Yu, Sam Green, and Kimberly Reed; editors Alex O’Flinn and Carla Gutierrez; curators and film critics Ela Bittencourt and Nico Marzano; and producers Joslyn Barnes and Angela Tucker.

    What percentage of applications are actually funded?

    The review process is highly competitive. We review approximately 1,300 proposals each year and fund 40–60 films.

    How will I know if the fund has received my proposal?

    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.

    When will I find out if I have been awarded a grant?

    Award decisions typically take three to five months, occasionally sooner. Please do not contact us to inquire about your status, as we cannot provide status updates. You will be notified directly by email once a decision has been made. We periodically announce new grantees throughout the year, and those press releases are not notifications.

    If my project is declined, will staff provide feedback?

    Unfortunately, we have a very limited staff and are unable to provide feedback to all applicants. However, projects that make it to our final stage of review are eligible to receive feedback.

    May I re-apply for a grant if my proposal is declined?

    Yes. However, you may only re-apply when your project has advanced in storytelling vision and intent. Given the number of submissions received too early and resubmitted too quickly, filmmakers are strongly discouraged from submitting nearly identical proposals or visual samples twice.

    If my proposal is declined, what are the chances my project will be accepted if I reapply?

    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.

    If I choose to re-apply, do I need to submit a complete proposal online?

    Yes. Should you choose to re-apply, please apply online with a brand-new application. Your new submission should address significant development of the project since last applying, corresponding with a later stage of production. You must submit new video links accompanying your proposal.

    Can I submit more than one proposal?

    Yes, you are allowed to submit more than one proposal in the same round as long as they are for separate projects.

    If I received development funding from Sundance Institute, can I apply for production or post-production funds?

    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.

    Can I provide project updates once my application is submitted?

    You may send any significant updates to dfp@sundance.org. However, due to the volume of projects that we receive, the Documentary Film Program does not guarantee that updates will be incorporated into the project’s review.

    If I receive a grant or award from another source, am I still eligible to apply for Sundance Institute funding?

    Yes.

    If I receive a grant from Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, will my film screen at the Sundance Film Festival?

    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 Institute Documentary Fund remain eligible to apply for the Sundance Film Festival directly.

    Does receiving a grant from the Sundance Institute's Documentary Fund preclude me from working with any broadcaster or distributor?

    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 considered partial support, and projects generally must seek other funding as well as license and distribution agreements in order to realize their budget.

    If I receive a grant, what are the terms of the contract?

    Grants are not recoupable, and none of your exploitable rights are encumbered. Our contract requests are verbal and logo acknowledgment in the end credits of the film and on your promotional materials, and four copies of the finished film on DVD. We also require narrative, financial, and distribution reports—and social impact reports, if applicable. We may 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.

    What subject category does my film fall into?

    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 sports for community, access to knowledge, and the pursuit of creative endeavors.
    • Democracy, Peace and Security, and 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, etc.
    • 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.

    May I ask you to review an element of my proposal before I apply (e.g., my website, trailer, or synopsis)?

    No. We only review complete proposals submitted through our online portal.

    I still have questions. Can I call or Skype with you to discuss my film?

    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 dfp@sundance.org and we will be happy to try to answer them. Please understand that we cannot provide status updates. If we need additional information, we will contact you.

    TECHNICAL SUPPORT

    How do I reduce the file size of my PDF?

    Check out this link.

    How do I convert my film from a DVD to a uploadable digital file?

    Download and Install HandBrake here, and learn how to use Handbrake here.

    I’m having trouble uploading my film to Vimeo. Can you help?

    Check out this link.

Special Opportunity Funds

The Documentary Fund offers additional support for projects that address specific pressing socio-cultural issues, through our partners. Projects selected for these opportunities will be fielded through our general Documentary Fund application. If interested in applying for a special opportunity fund, please submit an application through the Documentary Fund portal.

  • The A&E Brave Storytellers Award is offered by A&E Indie Films, the award-winning feature documentary production arm of A+E Networks—a beacon for world-class documentary filmmakers and a trusted collaborator in creating critically acclaimed content with unprecedented access to remarkable stories.

    Grant Opportunity:
    The A&E Brave Storytellers Award is a $25,000 development grant given to four documentary artists with projects that seek to break new ground in nonfiction storytelling. In particular, Brave Storytellers Awards go to artists who seek to pull audiences into never-before-seen cultures and communities and can deliver heartfelt stories of character, grit, and humanity. These are non-recoupable grants, with the filmmaker retaining all rights to the project.

    Requirements for A&E Brave Storytellers Awards are as follows:

    Where to Apply We are no longer accepting applications for this award
    Schedule We are no longer accepting applications for this award
    Grantee Pool Size Four projects per year
    Eligibility
  • Series and feature-length nonfiction projects in early development.
  • Grant Categories
  • Development ($25,000):
    Filmmakers eager to develop an idea into a feature-length nonfiction project are eligible for consideration. There is no reel required with an application, but potential characters and locations should be identified. Proposal should clearly articulate a potential direction for the project and ask questions that would indicate a layered and nuanced story. Mood reels, stills, or some visual depiction for the project in development are accepted.
  • Creative Considerations

    These awards aim to provide seed funding for projects in early development. We are excited to support projects that have sparked the curiosity of the filmmaker because of the incredible potential the story holds for a powerful character-driven documentary that takes us into a world we may not be familiar with.

    Previously Supported Projects:
    American Reckoning
    Director: Yoruba Richen

    The United States vs. Billie Holiday
    Director: Jameka Autry

    Untitled Margaret Brown Documentary
    Director: Margaret Brown

    You Were My First Boyfriend
    Director: Cecilia Aldarondo


  • The Sundance Institute | Kendeda Fund partnership offers grants and impact convenings aimed to change the way independent artists, influencers, and the general public think about urgent contemporary issues. Grants aim to support new work on the subjects of gun violence prevention and the environment.

    Grant Opportunity:
    People, Place, and Planet
    Kendeda’s People, Place, and Planet program envisions well-being for all within the ecological means of the planet. True sustainability links social and ecological challenges. The program seeks a world that embeds an understanding of the earth’s planetary boundaries into solutions for more just and equitable societies. It also supports storytellers who are exploring new ways to understand our relationship with the environment, specifically how communities are shifting energy systems, economies, livelihoods, and lifestyles to survive and thrive in balance with nature.

    Gun Violence Prevention
    Kendeda’s Gun Violence Prevention program seeks to unite unexpected partners around replicable strategies for long-term change, building on creative community-led efforts to find new, productive pathways toward a less violent society. The program invests in storytelling that moves beyond tragedy reporting and other traditional frames to focus instead on points of agreement, creative solutions, and models of progress. It also supports emerging leaders and new voices working at the intersection of gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform, racial equity, and poverty.

    The Sundance Institute | Kendeda Fund partnership provides non-recoupable grants to documentary, narrative, or emerging media projects exploring gun violence prevention and the environment. The fund also supports thoughtful impact campaigns to shape the public discourse on these themes.

    Application Requirements:

    Where to Apply Application will reopen in Late Fall 2020.Please email dfp@sundance.org to notify us of your application and interest in the Kendeda Fund at Sundance Institute.
    Schedule Grant-making decisions happen twice per year (usually late spring and fall) in conversation with the Kendeda Fund staff.
    Grantee Pool Size Four to six projects per year
    Eligibility
  • Shorts, series, and feature-length nonfiction projects; immersive/ new media projects.
    Gun Violence Prevention—U.S. only
    People, Place, and Planet—U.S. and international applications are accepted.
  • Grant Categories
  • Development (up to $15,000)
    Production/Post-production (up to $40,000)
    Impact (up to $25,000)
  • To learn more about the Kendeda Fund, click here.

    Completed Projects:
    Akicita- The Battle For Standing Rock
    Director: Cody Lucich
    Producer: Gingger Shankar

    Always in Season
    Director: Jacqueline Olive
    Producers: Jessica Devaney, Jacqueline Olive

    Awavena
    Lead Artist: Lynette Wallworth
    Producer: Nicole Newnham

    Charm City
    Director: Marilyn Ness
    Producer: Danielle Varga

    Harvest Season
    Director: Bernardo Ruiz
    Producers: Lauren Rosenfeld, Bernardo Ruiz

    Inventing Tomorrow
    Director: Laura Nix
    Producers: Diane Becker, Melanie Miller, Laura Nix

    Newtown
    Director: Kim A. Snyder
    Producers: Maria Cuomo Cole, Kim A. Snyder

    Silas
    Directors: Anjali Nayar, Hawa Essuman
    Producers: Steven Markovitz, Anjali Nayar

    When Claude Got Shot
    Director: Brad Lichtenstein
    Producer: Talleah Bridges

    Us Kids
    Director: Kim A. Snyder
    Producers: Maria Cuomo Cole, Lori Cheatle

    Projects in Production:
    A Journey Into the Storm
    Director: Sandra Salas
    Producer: Dwjuan F. Fox

    Hollow Tree
    Director: Kira Akerman
    Producers: Monique Walton, Jolene Pinder

    Newtok
    Director: Andrew Burton
    Producer: Michael Kirby Smith

    The Invasion of Rio Bonito
    Director: Alex Pritz
    Producer: Alex Pritz

    Madidi (working title)
    Director: Elizabeth Unger
    Producer: Elizabeth Unger

    Paradise
    Director: Karl Malakunas
    Producers: Marty Syjuco, Michael Collins

  • The Sundance Institute | Kendeda Fund partnership offers granting and impact convenings aimed to change the way independent artists, influencers and the general public think about urgent contemporary issues. Grants aim to support new work on the subjects of gun violence prevention and the environment.

    Grant Opportunity:
    People, Place, and Planet
    Kendeda’s People, Place, and Planet program envisions wellbeing for all within the ecological means of the planet. True sustainability links social and ecological challenges. The program seeks a world that embeds an understanding of the earth’s planetary boundaries into solutions for more just and equitable societies. It also supports storytelling and storytellers that are exploring new ways to understand human relationship with the environment, specifically how communities are shifting energy systems, economies, livelihoods, and lifestyles to survive and thrive in balance with nature.

    Gun Violence Prevention
    Kendeda’s Gun Violence Prevention program seeks to unite unexpected partners around replicable strategies for long-term change, building on creative community-led efforts to find new, productive pathways toward a less violent society. The program invests in storytelling that moves beyond tragedy reporting and other traditional frames to focus instead on points of agreement, creative solutions, and models of progress. It also supports emerging leaders and new voices working at the intersection of gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform, racial equity, and poverty.

    The Kendeda Fund | Sundance Institute fund provides non-recoupable grants to documentary, narrative, or emerging media projects exploring gun violence prevention and the environment. The fund also supports thoughtful impact campaigns to help these projects shape the public discourse on these themes.

    Application Requirements:

    Where to Apply Please submit an application through the Documentary Fund portal. Please email dfp@sundance.org to notify us of your application and interest in the Kendeda Fund at Sundance Institute.
    Schedule Grant-making decisions happen 2 times per year (usually late spring and fall) in conversation with The Kendeda Fund staff.
    Grantee Pool Size 4-6 projects per year
    Eligibility
  • Shorts, series and feature length fiction projects, Immersive/ New Media projects.
    Gun Violence prevention - US only
    People, Place and Planet - US & International applications are accepted.
  • Grant Categories
  • Development (up to $15,000)
    Production/Post-Production (up to $40,000)
    Impact (up to $25,000)
  • Creative Considerations

    These awards aim to provide seed funding for projects in early development. We are excited to support projects that have sparked the curiosity of the filmmaker because of the incredible potential the story holds for a powerful character driven documentary that takes us into a world we may not be familiar with.

    To learn more about The Kendeda Fund, click here.

    Completed Projects:
    Always in Season
    Director: Jacqueline Olive
    Producer: Jessica Devaney, Ann Bennett

    Awavena
    Director: Lynette Wallworth
    Producer: Nicole Newnham

    Charm City
    Director: Marilyn Ness
    Producer: Katy Chevigny

    Harvest Season
    Director: Bernardo Ruiz
    Producer: Lauren Capps Rosenfeld

    Inventing Tomorrow
    Director: Laura Nix
    Producers: Diane Becker, Melanie Miller, Julie Goldman, Chris Clements

    Newtown
    Director: Kim A. Snyder
    Producer: Maria Cuomo Cole

    Silas
    Director: Anjali Nayar
    Producer: Steven Markovitz

    When Claude Got Shot
    Director: Brad Lichtenstein
    Producer: Talleah Bridges

    Projects in Production:
    A Journey Into The Storm
    Director: Sandra Salas
    Producer: Djuan Fox

    Akicita- The Battle For Standing Rock
    Director: Cody Lucich
    Producer: Gingger Shankar

    US Kids (formerly known as As Goes Parkland)
    Director: Kim A. Snyder
    Producer: Maria Cuomo Cole, Lori Cheatle

    Hollow Tree
    Director: Kira Akerman
    Producer: Monique Walton, Jolene Pinder

  • The Sundance Institute | Sandbox Fund was launched in 2017 as a creative partnership between the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and Sandbox Films, a documentary studio that illuminates the art and beauty of scientific inquiry. This multiyear initiative harnesses the power of nonfiction storytelling as a vehicle for inspiring audiences to engage with science.

    The project offers grants, engagement events, and other opportunities for independent artists seeking to explore the intrinsic link between science and culture through innovative storytelling.

    Learn More About the Sundance Institute | Sandbox Fund

  • The Sundance Institute | Luminate Fund provides non-recoupable grants to stories addressing Luminate’s key impact areas: civic empowerment, data and digital rights, financial transparency, and independent media.

    Grant Opportunity:
    By investing in a range of high-quality documentary, narrative, episodic, and emerging media projects, the fund helps catalyze strategic storytelling across the four areas where Luminate strives to have impact: civic empowerment, data and digital rights, financial transparency, and independent media. Filmmakers will be eligible if they are working on relevant issues in any of our priority countries and regions—including Africa, Europe, and the U.S.—but the fund especially encourages applications from Latin America. The fund supports independent filmmakers both financially and with advisory and network services.

    Learn More About the Sundance Institute | Luminate Fund

Labs & Fellowships

Labs

DFP creative labs are unique residential workshops that bring together a world-class community of directors, editors, and producers dedicated to bold, courageous nonfiction storytelling. The DFP hosts three labs annually including theEdit and Story Lab, the Documentary Creative Producing Lab and Fellowship, and the inaugural Nonfiction Director’s Lab. In addition we collaborate with the Sundance Institute Film Music Program to welcome four nonfiction projects to the Film Music and Sound Design Lab at Skywalker Sound. At each lab, filmmakers work intensively with advisors and staff in a spirit of experimentation to advance their projects and nurture their creative instincts in a rigorous and supportive environment. Following the lab, DFP staff provides ongoing customized creative and strategic support throughout the life of the project.

All labs are programmed through an open submission process. You do not have to have a grant from the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund to be eligible for support. There is no fee to apply.

  • Application

    The 2020 Documentary Edit and Story Lab will not be selecting Fellows this year. Please read Sundance Institute’s Statement about the impact of COVID-19 in our residencial Labs. Please check back in fall of 2020 for more details about applications for the Lab in 2021.

    Dates June 19–27, 2020
    Location Sundance Mountain Resort, UT
    Size of Lab

    5 projects (director-and-editor teams)

    This application is open to filmmaking teams based in the U.S.

    The Documentary Edit and Story Lab supports filmmakers with nonfiction feature films in post-production. Lab fellows advance their projects through rigorous creative exploration and discussion of story structure and character development with world-class advisors. Filmmaking teams work closely with director and editor advisors and staff in a dynamic and supportive environment, and after the lab they receive ongoing creative and strategic support. To take best advantage of the lab, teams should be at a place in their edit at which creative exploration with trusted advisors will advance their project and bring a greater clarity of vision. First-time feature directors as well as midcareer artists are encouraged to apply.

    Past fellows include Jennifer Brea (Unrest), Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis (Whose Streets?), Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra (The Infiltrators), Petra Costa (The Edge of Democracy), and Yance Ford (Strong Island).

    Eligibiliy

    The lab is open to feature nonfiction projects in mid- to late post-production (from assembly through rough cut). There is no restriction of genre or storytelling style; we are looking for projects with a bold, contemporary vision made by courageous storytellers. Ideal candidates are directors and editors who are eager to engage in a collaborative, exploratory environment and are receptive to feedback and experimentation. Projects too far along in the edit, for whom creative input and exploration would be detrimental to the creative process, are not ideal candidates. Ideally, projects should have an editor attached at the time of application and should attend the lab as a director-editor team. (Projects for which the director is also the editor will also be considered.)

    Ideally, projects will attend the lab at a late-assembly/rough-cut stage. At the time of application, you may submit edited sequences, specific scenes, or character assemblies. The material submitted in combination with the written application should reflect your current creative vision and challenges and explain the edit process as you work towards an assembly/cut.

    Description and Format
    The lab is an eight-day residential retreat held in July at the Sundance Mountain Resort in Provo, Utah. Directors and editor teams attend and have access to all of their media on-site at the lab. Over the course of eight days fellows will screen their rough cut for the group and meet regularly with creative advisors and staff in small groups. Throughout the week, creative advisors also give presentations on the art and craft of editing and directing nonfiction features. Six creative advisors participate in the lab: four editors and two directors.

    The Documentary Edit and Story Lab is rooted in the belief that nonfiction editing is an art, not just a technical craft, and that the director-editor relationship is a core tenet of nonfiction storytelling. By inviting a team of experienced editors who articulate the nuances, challenges, and dynamic nature of this essential relationship in nonfiction storytelling, the lab fosters creative community and a unique focus on craft.

    Previous Documentary Edit and Story Lab advisors include editors Kate Amend (Into the Arms of Strangers, The Keepers), Andrea Chignoli (Cielo, No), and Jonathan Oppenheim (Paris Is Burning, The Oath), and directors Laura Poitras (Risk), Jeff Malmberg (Spettacolo), Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation), Robb Moss (The Same River Twice, Containment), and Margaret Brown (The Order of Myths, The Great Invisible).

    Contributing Editors
    Teams are paired with a contributing editor (CE). These are talented emerging editors invited to participate in the lab through a competitive application process (by invitation only). CEs are selected to provide technical and creative support on-site. Sundance Institute staff pair CEs with attending projects based on the projects’ creative and technical needs. This role is unique to the Edit and Story Lab and reflects the DFP’s commitment to nurturing the next generation of nonfiction editors.

    Cost
    There is no fee to apply. Sundance Institute will also provide round-trip economy travel, ground transportation to/from the airport in Salt Lake City, onsite lodging, and meals for the selected fellows (directors and editors) for the specific dates of attendance.

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  • Application

    The 2020 application is currently closed. Please check back in fall of 2020 for more details on the 2021 fellowship.

    Lab Dates July 26–30, 2020 (Lab will be hosted online)
    Number of Fellows: 5
    Location Hosted digitally
    Eligibility
    • Candidates are required to have produced at least one short or feature documentary film as lead creative producer or co-producer (executive producer, associate producer, or line producer does not qualify).
    • Candidates may not be the director of the submitted project.
    • Candidates must be in active production or post-production on project.
    • Candidates must live in the United States, though the project may be filmed internationally.
    • Candidates must be available for all CPI dates, above.
    Costs Sundance Institute normally provides round-trip economy travel, ground transfer, and on-site lodging for the selected fellow for the specific dates of attendance. However, because the 2020 lab will be hosted digitally, there are no costs associated with attending the lab. NOTE: DFP does not charge an application fee.
    Description and Format The Documentary Film Program’s Creative Producing Lab and Fellowship is a yearlong program designed to nurture emerging producers with project-specific support through the Creative Producing Lab, Sundance Film Festival attendance, year-round mentorship from industry mentors, and ongoing support from Sundance Institute staff. Also provided is a grant, which supports cost of living and unsupported costs of project development for the fellow. The program is designed to hone emerging producers’ creative instincts and evolve their communication and problem-solving skills at all stages of their next feature film project.
    Deliverables Fellows are required to acknowledge Sundance Institute and the CPI support partners, to provide reporting at the close of the fellowship year, and to participate in possible blogs, interviews, and panels. Fellows should be willing to give back to the Sundance Institute creative community through willingness to coach, advise, or mentor future fellows from Sundance Institute. Accepted fellows also must provide a current producers’ agreement or memo of understanding for the project they have applied with.

    Note: Only one application should be submitted for each project. If you are applying with a producing partner, please include both of your individual responses in the space provided, clearly labeled with each of your names.

    To be eligible to apply, you may not have any role on the project other than producer or co-producer.

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  • Application By invitation only (by applying to the Documentary Edit and Story Lab you are automatically considered for the Music and Sound Design Lab)
    Lab Dates July 7–20, 2020
    Location Skywalker Ranch, CA
    Size of Lab 8 projects (director-editor teams)

    The Sundance Music and Sound Design Lab brings together eight emerging film music composers with eight filmmaking teams, and Skywalker sound designers in the spirit of experimentation. As the line between fiction and nonfiction storytelling has blurred in recent years, we feel that the community of artists will benefit from cross-pollination.

    The Feature Film and Documentary Film Programs separately select eight supported projects in post-production to participate at the lab. Invited projects do not attend with their composer or sound designer. Once accepted, composers are assigned independently to work with either a fiction or a nonfiction project during the lab. Teams select a scene to work on together during the lab.

    Eligibility
    The lab is open to feature nonfiction projects in mid- to late post-production (from assembly through rough cut). Ideal candidates are directors who are eager to engage in a collaborative, exploratory environment and are receptive to feedback and experimentation. Directors who are already working with a composer are not best suited for the lab, as each director will be paired with a composer who is selected as part of the Film Music Program.

    Description and Format
    The Sundance Institute Film Music and Sound Design Lab brings together eight filmmaking teams in post-production (four fiction projects and four nonfiction projects) with eight emerging film composers, along with Skywalker sound designers, in the spirit of experimentation. Invited film teams select one to two scenes to create original cues for and, rather than attending with their composer or sound designer, are assigned an independent composer and sound designer to work with during the lab. (Composers interested in applying must do so through the Film Music Program.)

    The goal of the lab is experimentation; participants are not expected to continue working with their assigned composers or sound designers after the lab.

    Cost
    Sundance Institute will provide round-trip economy travel, ground transportation, and onsite lodging for the selected fellows for the specific dates of attendance.

Fellowships

In addition to creative labs, DFP has developed artist-centered fellowships, including the Art of Nonfiction Fellowship and Nonfiction Critics Fellowship. These fellowships provide financial support as well as a curated year-long program of events and tailored support designed to refine and deepen fellows’ creative practice. Ideal candidates are inventive, creative, early- to mid-career nonfiction storytellers, as well as critics and writers interested in nonfiction. U.S.-based candidates only.

  • The Art of Nonfiction Fellowship is designed to encourage and support the creative process of boundary-pushing nonfiction filmmakers. Artists with distinct voice and vision receive an unrestricted direct-to-artist grant and participate in a year-long fellowship track comprised of group gatherings and individualized opportunities tailored to their creative aspirations and challenges. Previous fellows include:

    2018
    Deborah Stratman
    Natalia Almada
    Sam Green
    Sky Hopinka

    2017
    Theo Anthony
    Garrett Bradley
    Sierra Pettengill
    Iva Radivojevic

    2016
    Khalik Allah
    Kitty Green
    Kirsten Johnson
    RaMell Ross
    Brett Story

    2015
    Margaret Brown
    Robert Greene
    Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq

  • Application Applications are currently closed.

    Description
    Fellowship encourages nuanced, thoughtful writing about nonfiction through opportunities that increase writers’ understanding of and proximity to the creative process. In addition, fellows receive financial and editorial support.

    Eligibility

    • Candidates must have published film reviews as well as at least one piece of long-form criticism in print publications and online journals.
    • Candidates may be freelance writers or staff writers.
    • Candidates must live in the United States.

    Stipulations
    Fellow retains full editorial control over the piece produced as a result of fellowship support. Neither Sundance Institute nor the Murray Center will have input on the published piece.

Alumni Support

When a project receives a grant from the Sundance Documentary Film Program, the team is offered a host of informal and formal support opportunities to nurture the project’s development as well as the artist's career. They are also part of the growing, global Sundance Alumni community. Grantees are also eligible for Sundance Institute cross-programmatic initiatives such as the Women’s Initiative and Catalyst Forum (both are by invitation only). Grantees can also access services provided by Sundance Institute Creative Partnerships and Alumni Programs.

Alumni Program

With more than nine thousand playwrights, composers, digital media artists, and filmmakers served through Institute programs over the last 35 years, the Sundance community of independent creators is more far-reaching and vibrant than ever before.

If you have been selected for any Institute lab, program or festival, you are a member of this community. Sundance alumni receive support throughout their careers, including access to tools, resources and advice as well as artist gatherings and more. Alumni are also encouraged to actively contribute to the Institute’s creative community and to our mission to discover and develop work from new artists. Learn more

Catalyst

Sundance Institute’s Catalyst program builds a culture of partnership between independent investors and filmmakers. Each year, we endeavor to unlock funding for ambitious new independent film projects and to grow the community of indie-film supporters. Catalyst trains selected filmmakers to effectively present their films for independent financing, connects them to our network of potential funders, and provides them with continued support throughout the lives of their projects. We also offer Catalyst artists guidance in building successful investor relationships; access to mentorship; and critical project, pitch, and budgetary feedback. Sundance Institute and Sundance Film Festival alumni are uniquely eligible for this opportunity, and applications are solicited by invitation.

Learn more

Women at Sundance

Women at Sundance is a multifaceted initiative dedicated to creating gender equality in American media. We support women filmmakers to grow and sustain their careers through a yearlong fellowship program, through an annual Financing and Strategy Workshop, and through Catalyst Women, which provides direct access to prospective investors. We convene networks and communities of artists, industry, and supporters committed to advancing women behind the camera at our annual Sundance Film Festival Women’s Brunch and through special events throughout the year. 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 mentor emerging international artists. Activities include convenings, workshops, solicited requests for proposals, and one-on-one meetings. Partnerships include:

  • Stories of Change is a multiyear initiative of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and the Skoll Foundation designed to connect independent storytellers with renowned social entrepreneurs, to foster story skills and networking among these communities, and to support compelling films that inspire and enlighten audiences with solutions to urgent social issues.

    Over eleven years, the Stories of Change Fund has granted $2.6 million across 49 projects from 94 filmmakers, and connected 90 social entrepreneurs with that community.

    Learn more

  • The BBC World Service and Sundance Institute collaborate on a nonfiction audio series series that airs worldwide on the World Service and is made available in podcast and streaming audio formats. Projects are selected from a joint open call each year. Participants are trained in audio storytelling by the BBC and spend six months shaping an audio program around a specific theme as well as working on an accompanying short film.

    Listen to last year's collaboration here

Art of Nonfiction Initiative

Sundance Institute’s Art of Nonfiction Initiative provides creative and financial support for nonfiction filmmakers employing inventive artistic practice in story, craft, and form.

With a focus on recognizing nonfiction filmmakers as creative artists, Sundance Institute has developed two unique support opportunities for filmmakers: the Art of Nonfiction Fellowship and Fund.

Recipients of the Art of Nonfiction Fellowship and Fund are selected on a yearly basis through a curated invitation-only application process. Considered artists must be living or working in the United States. Unsolicited applications are not currently being accepted.

Sundance Institute’s Art of Nonfiction Initiative is made possible by founding support from Cinereach. Generous additional support is provided by Genuine Article Pictures and Nion McEvoy & Leslie Berriman.

  • The Art of Nonfiction Fellowship is designed to encourage and support the creative process of boundary-pushing nonfiction filmmakers. Artists with distinct voice and vision receive an unrestricted direct-to-artist grant and participate in a year-long fellowship track comprised of group gatherings and individualized opportunities tailored to their creative aspirations and challenges. Previous fellows include:

    2018
    Deborah Stratman
    Natalia Almada
    Sam Green
    Sky Hopinka

    2017
    Theo Anthony
    Garrett Bradley
    Sierra Pettengill
    Iva Radivojevic

    2016
    Khalik Allah
    Kitty Green
    Kirsten Johnson
    RaMell Ross
    Brett Story

    2015
    Margaret Brown
    Robert Greene
    Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq

    The Art of Nonfiction Fund is designed to support pioneering artists at the vanguard of creative nonfiction filmmaking, providing no-strings-attached grants to artists developing work that takes an inventive cinematic approach. Once granted, artists have access to a range of Sundance Institute programs and opportunities open only to alumni, as well as ongoing strategic and creative support from the Documentary Film Program. Previous grantees include:

    2018
    Jem Cohen
    Kevin Jerome Everson
    Kevin B. Lee & Chloé Galibert-Laîné
    LaToya Ruby Frazier Leilah Weinraub

    2017
    Ra’anan Alexandrowicz
    Yance Ford
    Betzabé Garcêía
    Adam and Zack Khalil
    Deborah Stratman

    2016
    Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel
    Scott Cummings
    Joshua Oppenheimer
    Bill and Turner Ross
    Amanda Rose Wilder

Resources

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 dfp@sundance.org.

Support for the Documentary Film Program

The Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program is made possible by founding support from Open Society Foundations. Generous additional support is provided by Ford Foundation; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Skoll Foundation; Luminate; The Kendeda Fund; Science Sandbox/Simons Foundation; The Charles Engelhard Foundation; Genuine Article Pictures; CNN Films; Cinereach; National Endowment for the Arts; John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Bertha Foundation; Compton Foundation; Nion McEvoy & Leslie Berriman; Joan and Lewis Platt Foundation; Elkes Foundation; Code Blue Foundation; Vulcan Productions; WNET New York Public Media; Adobe; EarthSense Foundation; J.A. & H.G. Woodruff, Jr. Charitable Trust; and two anonymous donors.

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