Above: a still from Pascale Appora-Gnekindy and Ningyi Sun’s documentary “Eat Bitter”
Sundance Institute’s artist programs were created to support independent storytellers working in a range of mediums, and the Institute has a long-standing commitment to uplifting nonfiction stories from around the world. We believe that bold cinematic nonfiction projects allow us to understand the world we inhabit in new ways. Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program has the immense privilege of supporting such stories through many stages of development with the Documentary Fund, labs and intensives, and other artist support touch points. It is always exciting to see a film that was once just an idea on the page get the chance to hit screens big and small, both at home and in festivals around the world.
Below, discover 11 illuminating Sundance-supported documentaries that will be reaching new audiences this fall through festival premieres, theatrical releases, and TV broadcast premieres. We invite you to experience unique perspectives through these remarkable true stories, from love and loss during wartime in Ukraine to the intimate atmosphere of a sauna in Estonia.
A Rising Fury
Directors: Lesya Kalynska, Ruslan Batytskyi
Producers: TJ Collins, Jonathan Borge Lie, Lesya Kalynska, Ruslan Batytskyi
A Rising Fury follows two hopeful Ukrainian idealists from the 2013 peaceful protest in Kyiv to the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Pavlo and Svitlana met and fell in love at the Maidan Revolution and were filmed for nearly 10 years with several expeditions to the frontlines of the war. Pavlo loses his family home during the invasion and joins the Ukrainian military. Both find themselves on the battle lines protecting their land, democracy, and their relationship. Supported Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program
Arriving in select theaters October 27.
Directors: Rebecca Landsberry-Baker, Joe Peeler
Producers: Tyler Graim, Garrett Baker, Conrad Beilharz
When the Muscogee Nation suddenly begins censoring its free press, a rogue reporter fights to expose her government’s corruption in a historic battle that will have ramifications for all of Indian country. Supported by Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program, winner of the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Freedom of Expression at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival
“An enthralling and deeply human account of those who seek to expose corruption. Directors Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler’s Bad Press follows a modern-day muckraker, Angel Ellis, and her colleagues who stand committed to defending the freedom of the press after the Muscogee Nation Tribal legislative branch reels back journalistic protections.” – Kat Schulze, Program Coordinator
Arriving in select theaters October 27.
Directors: Pascale Appora-Gnekindy, Ningyi Sun
Producer: Mathieu Faure
Against the backdrop of the civil war in the Central African Republic, a Chinese construction manager and local African laborer work on opposite ends of the spectrum to construct a sparkling new bank. As deadlines loom, unexpected twists threaten their jobs, relationships, and plans for a better life. An eye-opening drama about these two men in their pursuit of wealth and happiness. Supported by Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program
“Eat Bitter follows two men — one a lifelong resident and the other a Chinese immigrant worker — in their pursuit of wealth, happiness, and a better life for their families in the Central African Republic. Directors Pascale Appora-Gnekindy and Ningyi Sun keep the film focused on human stories and dreams, showing what unites the two men. The film had an incredible festival run and now heads to theaters in Los Angeles!” – Dominic Davis, Manager, Documentary Fund
Arriving in select theaters October 27.
Razing Liberty Square
Director: Katja Esson
Producers: Katja Esson, Ann Bennett, Corinna Sager, Ronald Baez
Miami is ground zero for sea-level rise and the climate crisis. Elevation becomes real estate gold as the rich move inland from low-lying beachfront properties. When residents of Miami’s Liberty Square public housing development learn about a $300 million revitalization project, they brace themselves against a new form of racial injustice — climate gentrification. Supported by Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program and Producers Program
“What a year it has been for the team behind Razing Liberty Square! After premiering at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in April, the film has been screened around the world, including at the Woodstock Film Festival, where it won the Change Maker Award, which honors a filmmaker whose work ‘delves deep into a pressing contemporary issue and generates a constructive conversation.’ The film now heads to the Downtown Community Television Center for a theatrical release in New York City (scaffolded by some fascinating post-screening conversations) before it premieres on PBS on January 29, 2024.” – Dominic Davis, Manager, Documentary Fund
Arriving in select theaters October 27, and making its broadcast premiere on PBS’ Independent Lens January 29.
Fire Through Dry Grass
Directors: Alexis Neophytides, Andres “Jay” Molina
Producers: Jennilie Brewster, Alexis Neophytides
On a tiny island in New York City, a group of Black and Brown disabled artists fight COVID-19 and the city to protect the lives of 500 vulnerable nursing home residents. Supported by Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program
“Recently premiered at the 2023 BlackStar Film Festival, Fire Through Dry Grass offers a timely look at the consistent institutional neglect of society’s most vulnerable in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We move through the film with the Reality Poets, a group of Black and Brown disabled artists who are nursing home residents living on Roosevelt Island, a place historically used to contain marginalized and unwanted communities in New York. As they live through deplorable conditions during the height of the pandemic, the Reality Poets use their raw firsthand footage to demonstrate their art as activism, collective power, and consistent action to create radical change.” – Andrea Alarcon, Manager, Producing & Artist Support
Making its broadcast premiere on PBS’ POV October 30.
Director: Nailah Jefferson
Producer: Darcy McKinnon
When Danielle Metz’s triple life sentence was commuted, she got a rare chance to regain the life and family that she’d been dreaming about in prison. But back home in New Orleans, she steps into a different reality. Supported by Sundance Institute’s Producers Program
Premiering November 2 at the New Orleans Film Festival.
Directors: Michèle Stephenson, Joe Brewster
Producers: Michèle Stephenson, Joe Brewster, Tommy Oliver
Intimate vérité, archival footage, and visually innovative treatments of poetry take us on a journey through the dreamscape of legendary poet Nikki Giovanni as she reflects on her life and legacy. Supported by Sundance Institute’s Producers Program, winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival
“A powerful portrait of a living legend, the film meditates on a lifetime of resilience in the face of racial bigotry and injustice. Giovanni’s poetry is translated to screen with grace in an associative edit that weaves archival threads with contemporary vérité. Through her strength, we are reminded to always speak up; history will remember the choices we make.” – Evan Neff, Coordinator, Documentary Fund
Arriving in select theaters November 3.
You Were My First Boyfriend
Directors: Cecilia Aldarondo, Sarah Enid Hagey
Producers: Ines Hofmann Kanna, Cecilia Aldarondo
In the hybrid documentary You Were My First Boyfriend, filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo embarks on a quest to reconcile her tortured teen years. She revisits some of her most formative and cringeworthy childhood experiences by tracking down old crushes and reenacting visceral memories of youthful humiliation and desire — ultimately finding a path to self-acceptance. Supported by Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program
Arriving in select theaters November 3; making its broadcast premiere on HBO and available to stream on Max November 8.
Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano
Director: Cyril Aris
Producers: Katharina Weser, Myriam Sassine
A country that hits one disaster after another. A film crew that surmounts the insurmountable to shoot their vision of Lebanon’s future. A portrait of Lebanese society after the August 4 port explosion, struggling to rebuild, resist, and to survive a national trauma, ultimately finding hope and life again. Supported by Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program
Having its North American premiere November 10 at DOC NYC.
Our Land, Our Freedom
Directors: Zippy Kimundu, Meena Nanji
Producers: Eliane Ferreira, Zippy Kimundu, Meena Nanji
A Kenyan woman’s search for her father’s remains becomes an investigation into British colonial atrocities, including concentration camps and land theft that left hundreds of thousands of Kenyans destitute. As her mission expands, she transforms into a powerful advocate championing justice and land resettlement for those dispossessed. Supported by Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program
“Our Land, Our Freedom follows Wanjugu, daughter of Dedan Kimathi, legendary leader of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, or Mau Mau, as she searches for her father’s remains and embraces the role of advocate, championing land resettlement for those dispossessed during the conflict and excavating the British colony legacy and the ramifications for Kenyans today. We’re excited for audiences to see the film and join the essential conversation it provokes.” – Dominic Davis, Manager, Documentary Fund
Premiering November 11 at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.
Director: Anna Hints
Producer: Marianne Ostrat
In the darkness of a smoke sauna, women share their innermost secrets and intimate experiences, washing off the shame trapped in their bodies and regaining their strength through a sense of communion. Supported by Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program, winner of the Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival
Arriving in select theaters November 24, available on demand January 23, 2024.