When some people hear “Sundance,” they think of those magical days in January when we come together on the mountain to celebrate independent film and this extraordinary community.
We couldn’t be prouder of the Festival and its far-reaching impact. This winter, we’re excited to celebrate the 40th edition of the Festival and the bold filmmakers whose careers it has launched. We’re equally proud of Sundance Institute’s year-round work supporting artists globally at all stages of their career. That commitment to cultivating independent storytellers inspired our founding by Robert Redford more than 40 years ago, and it’s at the heart of everything we do today.
This is especially true in this deeply challenging moment for independent artists. Funding that was already hard to come by is even more scarce. Even as audiences return to theaters, the impact of the pandemic continues to reverberate across our industry. Lives and livelihoods have been put on hold during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, sparking a long overdue conversation about the essential role of artists in our society. There is also the daily conversation on the fragility of the documentary ecosystem and challenged acquisitions market for incredible nonfiction storytelling.
All of this only underscores the urgency of our mission and what is at stake. So as we close the books on our 2023 fiscal year and prepare for the 2024 Festival, we’re asking ourselves: How can we ensure that we’re continuing to meet the needs of artists in a rapidly changing environment? What more can we do to help our community flourish now and in the years to come?
To help answer those questions, we turned to the artists themselves, surveying more than 450 storytellers about the support they’ve received from Sundance.
We’re thrilled to share that over these last 12 months, Sundance Institute supported 1,390 artists through Sundance Labs, artist granting, fellowships, intensives, and (of course!) the Festival. Thousands more emerging artists are taking part globally in workshops and courses through Sundance Collab. Of those who voluntarily shared their backgrounds, 62 percent identify as artists of color, 53 percent are women, 40 percent identify as LGBTQIA, and seven percent have a disability.
Throughout the responses, we heard an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the work this community of supporters has helped make possible. “The [Feature Film Program] changed my life and my career,” wrote one artist. “It gave me the confidence I needed to believe that I was ready, that I belonged in the industry and that my voice matters. It gave me some critical resources and a big push to get my film made.” Artists expressed a high level of satisfaction with the support they received from Sundance — as well as an urgent need for more financial resources.
We also heard acknowledgement of the diverse community of artists, as one survey respondent noted, “A great strength of Sundance’s artist programs is the tremendous diversity of the artists currently supported — in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious background, and geography.” At the same time, we heard a clear desire to see even more intersectional experiences and increased support for filmmakers beyond the United States. One artist addressed the importance of investing in filmmakers around the world, noting: “As an indie Chinese documentary filmmaker based in China, it is so hard to find financial support domestically because of the censorship. The support from Sundance is so crucial for me to continue making film in an independent way.”
A highlight of the survey for me was that 80 percent of artists reported that the Institute’s educational and skill-building programs were effective in helping them improve their craft. Respondents touched on the magic of Sundance Labs, and the unparalleled “network both of industry and of wonderful supportive peers.”
On a personal note, I was particularly moved by the near-universal desire of Sundance-supported artists to serve as mentors for up-and-coming artists, and deepen their engagement with the alumni community. It’s humbling to see that even with so many competing demands on their time, these artists are committed to uplifting one another — not simply as a way of “paying forward” the support they received, but because they value their connection to this community so deeply.
As someone who has reaped the rewards of Sundance support in my own career, I know firsthand that what we do matters — both because of the immediate impact in the lives of storytellers in the U.S. and around the world, and because of the crucial contributions independent artists make to their fields. This summer, whether they knew it or not, audiences laughed and cried to work by a number of artists with connections to Sundance artist programs and the Festival, including Wes Anderson, Greta Gerwig, James Mangold, Angel Manuel Soto, Pete Nicks, Christopher Nolan, Justin Simien, and Frédéric Tcheng and Bethann Hardison. The same will be true this fall, with new releases from Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Nia Dacosta, Sean Durkin, David Gordon Green, Roger Ross Williams, and Taika Waititi.
None of this would be possible without you: the audiences who join us each January on the mountain or tune in from their living rooms, the supporters who donate to the Institute in any amount, the film lovers who visit independent theaters, the social media followers who enjoy learning more about Sundance, and of course, the artists helping us to find meaning and purpose in the world around us.