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Documentary Fund FAQ

Q: Do you have deadlines?
A: Yes. We have two deadlines per year, generally the first week of February and July. Proposals must be submitted online by the end of business on the deadline. If you are submitting the prior directing sample on a DVD, all material must be received in our LA office by the end of business on the deadline. Do not send printed proposals. Sundance Institute reserves the right to solicit film projects at its sole discretion at any time related to Institute or Documentary Film Program priorities. Award decisions take approximately four to six months from the deadline.

Q: Who should apply?
A: The Sundance Institute Documentary Fund (SDF) supports cinematic feature documentaries with contemporary relevance from filmmakers in the U.S. and internationally. Proposals to the SDF are evaluated on artful and innovative storytelling, originality, contemporary relevance,  and potential to reach its intended audience. First time directors are eligible and no prior work is required. Films may be in any language (with English subtitles or an English dialogue transcript).

Q: When should I apply?
A: You may submit your film at any production phase from development through post-production. Both Development and Production/Post-production proposals MUST convey some vision for a finished film. Production/Post-production proposals must include a rough cut of 10 minutes or longer. Development proposals are strongly encouraged to submit clips, trailers, or selects. Applications from production/post-production proposals that have not yet secured characters or subjects, or are unable to articulate a narrative framework or the story's 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: I am far into production but do not have a 10 minute sample, am I still eligible for funding?
A: 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. You may apply for funding in the Development category or choose to wait to apply until you have the necessary material.

Q: What is meant by "Contemporary Relevance"?
A: Your subject or story may be a local one, but it reflects a challenge or opportunity facing a global community. Perhaps the stakes are high not only for your central character or subject and their family or community, but also for the future of life as lived by other residents of the world. Please articulate what is timely about your story.

Q: What is a Story Summary?
A: The Story Summary or narrative synopsis should convey the film's story. This should include a brief description of the primary characters or subjects and their potential journey, the mission, stakes, central question and possible outcomes. As well, include information about the directorial approach to the story.

Q: What is a Distribution/Marketing Strategy?
A:. Outline the intended festival, theatrical, broadcast, home video or educational distribution. Include the names of any distribution company, channel, screening venue, film festival, etc., showing interest in the project, as well as those you plan to approach. This section of the proposal should be a concrete explanation of the best matches available for your particular film, and what you will do to have your film reach its intended audience.

Q: How long should the written materials be?
A: There are general guidelines on the application coversheet, and we appreciate clear and concise language that still richly explains the intended film. The guidelines provided are suggestive. There is no word count limit.

Q: Does my proposal have to be in English?
A: Yes. The Sundance Institute Documentary Fund can only consider proposals written in English, accompanied by a budget translated into USD, and visual material with English subtitles. You need not submit an English dialogue transcript if your film is spoken in English.

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: What are some specific examples of films you have funded?
A: Please check our website – http://www.sundance.org/programs/documentary-fund/ – and read our most recent press release about our most recently funded projects. Please note: we do not fund strictly historical, biographical, and NGO or educational films.

Q: How long does my completed prior work have to be?
A: Completed prior work may be any length from short to feature and 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. If you are a co-directing team please submit one relevant prior work for consideration to represent the team.

Q: If I am a first time director, may I send in someone else’s work as my Completed Prior Work?
A: A visual work that conveys the director's storytelling ability is preferred. If this is a directorial debut, you may submit a work from a key member of the creative team.

Q: What formats are accepted?
A: All work must be submitted via a streaming platform such as Vimeo or Youtube. If the prior directing sample is unavailable through a link, you may send a DVD. Please label your DVD with:

  • Applicant Contact Information
  • Director’s Name
  • Submission Film Title
  • DVD information ( Title and Run Time)

Q. Do you accept online links to video material?
A: Yes, you must provide an online link to your directing sample and current rough cut. We recommend using Vimeo (vimeo.com) for this service. When you register and upload your files, make your film downloadable  accessible through January 2015. Please do not update or change your uploaded file once you submit your application. When you complete your online submission form, you can paste in your Vimeo link and password. Include these details in your written proposal, as well.

Q: I do not have any funds secured to date, am I still eligible for funding?
A: Yes. Prior funding commitments are not required. All proposals should include a Fundraising Strategy that details how you will go about raising the funds for your film, irrespective of a Sundance Institute Documentary Fund grant. In addition to foundations and broadcast license agreements you should include private donations, in-kind support, crowd sourcing, producer investment, and fundraisers.

Q: If I am applying for Development Funds, can my budget cover the Development portion of the project only?
A: No. For either funding category a budget covering the costs of the entire project from development through distribution is required. 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 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: What percentage of applications is 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 are decisions regarding funding made?
A: Proposals go through a multi-stage review, with selected submissions sent for SDF Committee consideration. The Committee then meets to make recommendations regarding which projects are funded. Proposals to the SDF are evaluated on artful and innovative storytelling, originality, contemporary relevance and potential to reach its intended audience.

Q: Who makes up the Committee?
A: SDF Committees are 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 (POV), and Academy Award nominees Arthur Dong, Kirby Dick, Jessica Yu,  Rob Epstein, and Marshall Curry.

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. For further assurance, U.S. applicants may  mail us a self-addressed, stamped postcard. You will not be contacted unless there are materials missing in your proposal.

Q: When will I find out if I have been awarded a grant?
A: Award decisions take four to six months from the application deadline.

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: Does it hurt my chances if I re-apply for a grant after my proposal has been declined in the past?
A: You are eligible to re-apply for a grant on a given film, provided you have significantly developed the project since last applying. Filmmakers are strongly discouraged from applying too early, or from submitting nearly identical proposals twice. Given the number of submissions received too early or too often, the DFP restricts resubmission of  unsuccessful applications to 3 attempts. Some exeptions may apply.

Q: If I choose to reapply, do I need to submit a complete proposal online?
A: Yes. Due to the volume of applications we are unable to maintain files in our offices after the given funding cycle is closed. Should you choose to reapply, please apply online through our website (click here). Your new submission should also reflect significant development of the project since last applying.

Q: Will the SDF return my written or media materials?
A: No. Due to the volume of requests, we are not able to return any materials.

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. 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 note, the Documentary Film Program reserves the right to request updates from  projects at its sole discretion at any time during the round.

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.

Q: Are short films eligible for funding?
A: No. As stated under the Eligibility Requirements, the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund can currently only consider projects that range in length from full broadcast hour to long format feature at this time. However, full length films that will conduct versioning for educational modules, multi-platform purposes, or community engagement films etc. are eligible overall.

Q: If I receive a grant from Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, will my film screen at the Sundance Film Festival or on the Sundance Channel?
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. Universal eligibility requirements regarding length, premiere status, etc. apply. Similarly, projects not selected for funding by the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program remain eligible to apply for the Sundance Film Festival directly. The Sundance Channel is a separate entity and broadcast decisison are made independently of SDF grants.

Q: Does receiving a grant from Sundance Institute Documentary Fund preclude me from working with another 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. A grant award from the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund has no relationship to the programming of the Sundance Channel, a separately run entity based in New York City.

Q: 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 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: Where can I find additional answers to questions?
A: You may send an email query with specific questions to dfp@sundance.org. Please understand that we cannot provide status updates. If we need additional information we will contact you, and if you have significant updates to the nature of your project you may let us know by mail or email.