Thirty-three independent documentary films have been selected for Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program support in 2015, with grantees including original voices from around the world.
The Sundance Documentary Fund moved to a limited rolling open call in 2015, encouraging filmmakers to submit applications only when they feel their film is ready to share. Rahdi Taylor, Film Fund Director, said, “This past year was one of experimentation and change. We eliminated deadlines, embraced risk taking in form, filmmaker and subject matter, but we stayed true to our core purpose of discovering contemporary stories of meaning and moral purpose. Overall the selections are characterized by risk, inclusion and innovation as well as addressing the most vital conversations of our time.”
Highlights of films awarded grant support include projects that may experiment with or expand the nonfiction form in compelling ways, such as All These Sleepless Nights, Casting JonBenet,Shirkers, The Event, The Reagan Years, and Untitled Kronos Project. Many films probe vital and pressing contemporary topics including Black Lives Matter (Whose Streets?), incarceration in America (Untitled Prison Project), mass shootings/gun violence (Untitled Newtown Documentary), juvenile sexual assault (Audrie & Daisy), and juvenile incarceration (They Call Us Monsters). Our support of in-country filmmakers is a proud mark of our work this year and a reflection of our ongoing commitment to supporting international storytellers (India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Hungary, Russia/Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Afghanistan). Joining these artists are U.S.-based filmmakers from a diverse range of backgrounds including Roger Ross Williams, Pacho Velez, Sabaah Jordan and Damon Davis, Kahlil Hudson, and Sandi Tan.
Films will continue to be supported on a rolling basis. Submissions remain open year-round, and filmmakers with projects are encouraged to submit for consideration when they are ready to do so.
The Acali Experiment (Sweden)
Director: Marcus Lindeen
Producer: Erik Gandini
In 1973 five men and six women went on a dramatic raft expedition across the Atlantic Ocean for 101 days to study human aggression and sexuality. This documentary reunites them forty years later to reveal what actually happened during one of history’s strangest group experiments.
Director: Noémi Veronika Szakonyi
Producer: Julianna Ugrin
The filmmaker found her missing brother, who was kidnapped at age six by his father, a man with extraordinary connections in communist Hungary.
Casting JonBenet (Australia/U.S.)
Director: Kitty Green
Producer: Scott Macaulay and Kitty Green
An artful exploration of the legacy of the world’s most sensational child-murder case, the unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.
Writer-Director-Producer: Sandi Tan
In 1992, an enigmatic American named Georges shot Singapore’s first indie film with a group of female teenage film-buffs, then absconded with all the footage. Nearly twenty years later, his widow uncovers the 16mm cans in New Orleans—and ships them to the film’s screenwriter-actress, who embarks on a new voyage to Singapore, Cambridge, New Orleans, and into the past.
Three Identical Strangers (U.K.)
Director: Tim Wardle
Producer: Grace Hughes-Hallett
There’s no-one else on Earth quite like you. Or is there…?
Untitled Kronos Project (U.S.)
Director: Sam Green
Untitled Kronos Project is an experimental, live documentary that will tell the story of legendary classical group the Kronos Quartet and its 40 year career.
Untitled Prison Project (U.S.)
Director: Roger Ross Williams
Producer: Femke Wolting, Bruno Felix, Roger Ross Williams
Filmmaker Roger ross williams sets out on a deeply personal journey to understand why so many friends from his childhood town of Easton, Pennsylvania are in prison.
Yoghurt Utopia (U.K./Spain)
Directors: Anna Thomson, David Baksh
Producer: Adrian Pennink
Christopher Columbus gives 200 mental patients an opportunity to live, work and lead productive lives producing La Fageda, a top yogurt brand from Catalonia, Spain. Can this Yoghurt Utopia survive the mounting internal and external pressures?
Young Men and Fire (US)
Director: Kahlil Hudson and Alex Jablonski
Producer: Kyle Dickman
Young Men and Fire tells the story of working class men in a single wildland firefighting crew as they struggle with fear, loyalty, love, and defeat all over the course of a single fire season.
When God Sleeps
Director: Till Schauder (U.S/ Germany)
Producer: Sara Nodjoumi & Till Schauder (U.S./Germany)
When God Sleeps depicts the journey of an Iranian musician who is forced into hiding after hardline clerics offer a $100,000 reward for his murder
Whose Streets? (U.S.)
Director: Sabaah Jordan and Damon Davis
Producer: Flannery Miller
The murder of a teenage boy became the last straw for a community under siege. Whose Streets? follows the journey of everyday people turned freedom fighters, whose lives intertwine with a burgeoning national movement for black liberation.
All These Sleepless Nights (Poland/UK)
Director: Michal Marczak
Producer: Marta Golba, Michal Marczak, Julia Nottingham, Thomas Benski and Lucas Ochoa
A new era is coming, and Warsaw stands uncomfortably at its edge. Christopher and Michal, on the precipice of their own coming of age, restlessly roam their city’s streets in search of living forever inside the beautiful moment. Never content with answers, they push each experience to its breaking point, testing what it might mean to be truly awake in a world that seems satisfied to be asleep.
Audrie & Daisy (U.S.)
Director: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Producers: Richard Berge and Sara Dosa
Two teenage girls are sexually assaulted while unconscious by boys who they thought were their friends. Each girl is harassed relentlessly online, both attempt suicide, and tragically, one girl dies. High school assault in the age of social media is explored from the perspective of the girls –and the boys –involved in the assaults.
Director/Producer: Pankaj Johar
When Cecilia Hasda’s 14 year old daughter is trafficked and found dead in Delhi, the filmmaker and his wife decide to help her seek justice. As they battle a web of corruption at all levels, they find themselves navigating a complex network of cops, traffickers, judges, lawyers, villagers and family members.
Eagle Huntress (UK/Mongolia)
Director: Otto Bell
Producer: Stacey Reiss and Sharon Chang
This spellbinding documentary follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl as she battles a culture of misogyny to become the first female Eagle Hunter in 2,000 years of male-dominated history.
Director: Elizabeth Stopford
Producer: Nicole Stott
A modern American ghost story and a house that vanished. In the wake of two seemingly inexplicable shooting sprees, can a community forgive the teenage boy at the heart of its tragic past? .
Director: Jeff Unay
Greywater is the story of Joe, a blue-collar family man who breaks the promise he made years ago to never fight again. Now forty years old, with a wife and four children who depend on him, he risks everything—his marriage, his family, his financial security— to go back into the fighting cage for one last time and come to terms with his past.
The Keepers (U.S.)
Director: Ryan White
Producer: Jessica Lawson
A documentary thriller unraveling a longstanding mystery in Baltimore.
Untitled Newtown Documentary (U.S.)
Director: Kim A. Snyder
Producer: Maria Cuomo Cole, Kim A. Snyder
We witness residents of Newtown, CT navigate the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history.
Untitled Reef Project (U.S.)
Director: Jeff Orlowski
Producer: Larissa Rhodes
Richard Vevers quit his job at a top London ad agency and sets out to become an underwater photographer. Face-to-face with stunning evidence of the human caused destruction of vibrant underwater ecosystems, Richard races the clock to save the oceans.
Almost Sunrise (U.S.)
Director: Michael Collins
Producer: Marty Syjuco
Two friends, ex-soldiers, embark on an epic journey to heal from their time in combat. Filled with hope for veterans who’ve left the battlefield behind and are now seeking peace on the home front, Almost Sunrise follows Tom and Anthony as they walk 2,700 miles across America.
The Event (Ukraine/Russia)
Director: Sergei Loznitsa
Producers: Sergei Loznitsa & Maria Choustova
Three days that shook the world or much ado about nothing?
Holy Cow (Azerbaijan/Germany/Romania)
Director: Imam Hasanov
Producer: Andra Popescu, Veronika Janatkova, Stefan Kloos
One man's dream of bringing a European cow in his remote village in Azerbaijan unsettles the conservative community that wants to keep their secular traditions intact.
Maman Colonelle (France/DR Congo)
Director: Dieudo Hamadi
Producer: Christian Lelong
Colonel Honorine works for the Congolese police force and heads the unit for the protection of minors and the fight against sexual violence. Having worked for 15 years in Bukavu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she learned she was being transferred to Kisangani. There, she found herself faced with new challenges.
Markie in Milwaukee (U.S.)
Director: Matt Kliegman
Producer: Matt Kliegman and Zac Stuart-Pontier
Markie dreams of completing her gender transition, but can she overcome the ghosts of her past as a Fundamentalist Baptist preacher?
The Pearl Button (El Boton de Nacar)
Director: Patricio Guzmán
Producer: Renate Sachse
The Pearl Button is a story about water, Cosmos and us. It all starts with the discovery of two mysterious buttons deep in the Pacific Ocean, off the Chilean coast.
An Insignificant Man (India)
Directors: Khushboo Ranka, Vinay Shukla
Producer: Anand Gandhi
Co-Producer: Ruchi Bhimani
Exec. Producer: Vijay Vaidyanathan
What happens when an insider challenges corruption in the world’s largest democracy? An Insignificant Man tells the extraordinary story of the 2013 New Delhi elections, which catapulted bureaucrat-turned-activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal into power within a year of forming a new anti-corruption political party. A ground-level verite portrait depicting the transformation of a people's movement into a political party, the film follows Arvind Kejriwal with unprecedented access as he takes on the oldest political party in India–The Congress Party.
The Reagan Years (U.S.)
Director: Pacho Velez
Producer: Sierra Pettengill
The Reagan Years is about a prolific actor’s defining role: Leader of the Free World. It uses the Reagan administration’s internal documentation to capture the spectacle of American might at its acme.
Director: Jeff Malmberg
Producer: Chris Shellen
For the past 50 years, the villagers of Monticchiello have confronted their communal issues through art in the form of a play that the entire town writes and performs. Teatro is a portrait of this tradition seen through the lens of the last man trying to keep it alive.
They Call Us Monsters (U.S.)
Director: Ben Lear
Producer: Sasha Alpert and Gabriel Cowan
They Call Us Monsters takes us behind the walls of The Compound, where Los Angeles houses its most violent juvenile offenders. To their advocates, they’re kids. To the system, they’re adults and to their victims they’re monsters. This film asks us to decide for ourselves.
Director: Johanna Hamilton
Producer: Marilyn Ness
On March 8, 1971 a group of citizens broke into an FBI office in Media, PA near Philadelphia and raided thousands of secret files that revealed an illegal government program known as COINTELPRO. Never caught, they have remained anonymous. Until now.
Enter the Faun (U.S.)
Director & Producer: Tamar Rogoff and Daisy Wright
Executive Producer: Véronique Bernard
Art and science collide as a young actor with cerebral palsy and a dancer embark on a journey that leads to unprecedented physical transformation and challenges the limitations associated with disability.
Sundance | ESPN Films Fellow
Shot in the Dark (U.S.)
Director: Dustin Nakao Haider
Producers: Daniel Poneman, Daniel Dewes, Derek Doneen, and Ben Vogel
For the players on Orr Academy’s basketball team, the court is a haven. Outside, it’s the Westside of Chicago - a neighborhood racked with gangs, gun trafficking, and violence. Within those walls, each player has his own struggle. But they’ll need to fight together if they ever want to break out.
About the Documentary Film Program
The Program focuses on the values of art, reach, and change by encouraging excellence and experimentation in form, championing under-represented voices, facilitating strategic distribution, and supporting the social and creative impact of this work upon release. With grants, creative labs, and strategic advice, the Program comprises one of the world’s foremost resources for nonfiction filmmaking. Established in 2002 with founding support from Open Society Foundations, the Program is a vibrant global resource for independent non-fiction storytelling. Recent projects include Joshua Oppenheimer’sThe Look of Silence, Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe’s (T)ERROR, Laura Poitras’s CITIZENFOUR, Jehane Noujaim’s The Square, Lauren Greenfield’s The Queen of Versailles, Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’s Rich Hill, Kirby Dick’s The Hunting Ground, and Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land.