History

In 1981, Robert Redford gathered a group of his friends and colleagues in the mountains of Utah to create an environment designed to foster independence, discovery, and new voices in American film. That spring, ten emerging filmmakers were invited to the first Sundance Institute Filmmakers/Directors Lab where they worked with leading writers and directors to develop their original independent film projects. In the remote natural setting and removed from the pressures of the marketplace, each emerging artist was encouraged to take creative risks and to craft a film true to their own, unique vision. In 1984, the Institute's activities expanded to include development programs for theatre when the Utah Playwrights Conference became the Sundance Playwrights Lab.

Since those first Labs, the Institute has grown into an internationally recognized resource for thousands of independent film, theatre, and music artists. The programs of Sundance Institute include the annual Sundance Film Festival, held in and around Park City, Utah, each January. Widely considered the premier platform for American and international independent film, the Festival has introduced audiences to some of the most original stories of the last three decades including Reservoir Dogs, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, American Splendor, An Inconvenient Truth, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Cove.

Through year-round support and a series of Labs and Fellowships for screenwriters, directors, and producers, the Institute's Feature Film Program has supported more than 300 feature films, including Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's HOWL, Cherien Dabis' Amreeka, Cary Joji Fukunaga's Sin Nombre, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know, and Walter Salles's Central Station. Documentaries ranging from Tia Lessin and Carl Deal's Trouble the Water to Laura Poitras' The Oath to Ross Kaufman and Zana Briski's Born into Brothels are among the 500 films that have been supported by the Documentary Film Program, which offers grants from the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund along with a series of Labs in editing and storytelling.

With a series of Labs and retreats that provide a creative environment in which to develop new work with dramaturgs and full casts, the Theatre Program has supported the development of more than 200 plays, including Taylor Mac's The Lily's Revenge, Tracey Scott Wilson's The Good Negro, Stew and Heidi Rodewald's Passing Strange, and Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik's Spring Awakening. The Native American and Indigenous Program hosts screenings, panels, events, and workshops throughout the year designed to foster community and the exchange of ideas among Native American and Indigenous filmmakers. Connecting filmmakers with musicians, the Film Music Program's Composers Lab allows accomplished musicians to explore composing for film while introducing filmmakers to the importance of music in film. The Creative Producing Initiative encompasses a year-round series of Labs, Fellowships, and events focusing on nurturing the next generation of independent producers. Our work in the arena of Short Films recognizes the importance of this groundbreaking form in the world of cinema and has long been established as a place to discover talented directors.

Sundance Institute also continues to support film and theatre artists beyond their participation in our Artist Programs through a commitment to building audiences for their work. In order to create a record of cultural history, the Sundance Institute Archives preserves the organization's history and documents the creative processes of the artists we support. The Sundance Institute Collection at UCLA provides a ground-breaking educational archive devoted to the collection and preservation of independent cinema. The Alumni Initiative cultivates connections with our alumni to foster a continued relationship between the Institute and the artists who have developed or shown work through the Institute's programs. The Art House Project is a collaboration with art house cinemas in cities around the country to create specialized screening programs of Sundance Institute and Sundance Film Festival-supported films for local audiences and our Community Programs are a series of Utah-based activities that offer many free and open to the public events for more than 25,000 Utah residents each year.