Catalyst

Catalyst

Sundance Institute’s Catalyst program builds a culture of partnership between independent investors and filmmakers. Each year, we endeavor to unlock funding for ambitious new independent films and to grow the community of indie-film supporters. 

Catalyst brings together both new and experienced film investors through highly curated film financing opportunities, custom programming, and engagement with the Sundance Institute community. We offer new investors a guided entry into film financing, and we present our entire cohort with exceptional projects, intimate discussions about various aspects of the film business, and personalized support in sourcing projects and developing partnerships with filmmakers.

We train selected filmmakers to effectively present their films for independent financing, and we provide them with continued support throughout the lives of their projects. We also offer Catalyst artists guidance in building successful investor relationships, access to mentorship, and critical project and budgetary feedback. Applications are solicited by invitation only.

Our year-round program includes strategy workshops, artist and industry talks, social events, bespoke film financing opportunities, and the signature Catalyst Forum, which features a curated slate of projects seeking funds. Since its founding in 2013, over $35 million has been raised to support 102 fiction and nonfiction films through Catalyst.

Application Timline

Catalyst applications are solicited by invitation only. When applying, you will be asked to upload your script (for fiction projects) or supply footage (for nonfiction projects), key team bios, budget total, financing raised and sought, production timeline, and links to previous work, among other key materials.

March–May 2021 Application period

July 2021 Projects selected

July–September 2021 Filmmaker preparations

September 2021 Catalyst Forum

Catalyst Forum Project Criteria

Catalyst Forum (September 2021) is an invitation-only opportunity for feature-length fiction and nonfiction film projects that meet the following criteria:

  • Projects with at least one member of the above-the-line team who is a Sundance Institute alumni will be given strong preference. Sundance alumni status includes having taken a project through a Sundance Institute lab, fund, or fellowship, or having exhibited prior work at the Sundance Film Festival.
  • We prefer projects that have at least one US-based member of the above-the-line team, but we will also consider international applicants.
  • Projects must have a strong producer with at least one feature credit attached. A producer and the director from each project must present together at Catalyst Forum.
  • Project budgets must not exceed $3,000,000 USD, and budget gaps may not be smaller than $250,000 USD. Exceptions may be made on a limited and case-by-case basis.
  • Projects must have a budget gap and be open to equity investments and/or granting contributions from multiple individual investors as part of their financing plan. Projects with partial financing in place are welcome and encouraged to apply.
  • Projects must have preliminary financing plans and be ready to actively engage with financiers. This includes having structures in place to accept funding by the time of the Catalyst Forum, such as a fiscal sponsor or LLC.
  • Fiction only: Projects must have a script in advanced development. Films that have tangible components in place, like a production start date or cast and crew attachments, tend to unlock more funding.
  • Nonfiction only: Projects can be in any phase of production—including development, pre-production, production, and post-production—but must have sample footage to share.
  • Projects must feature compelling, original subject matter and a distinctive directorial vision.
  • Resubmissions are permitted if a major element has changed.
  • Multiple submissions from the same team are discouraged.

Past Catalyst Projects

Akicita: The Battle of Standing Rock

Director Cody Lucich
Producers Heather Rae, Gingger Shankar
Premiere 2018 Sundance Film Festival

Standing Rock, 2016: the largest Native American occupation since Wounded Knee. Thousands of activists, environmentalists, and militarized police descend on the Dakota Access Pipeline in a standoff between oil corporations and a new generation of Native warriors. This chronicle captures the sweeping struggle, spirit, and havoc of a people’s uprising.

Always in Season

Director Jacqueline Olive Producers Jacqueline Olive, Jessica Devaney Premiere 2019 Sundance Film Festival, U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency 

When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins, as the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present.

Audrie & Daisy

Director Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Producers Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen, Sara Dosa
Premiere 2016 Sundance Film Festival

After two high-school girls in different towns are sexually assaulted by boys they consider friends, online bullying leads each girl to attempt suicide. Tragically, one dies. Assault in the social-media age is explored from the perspectives of the girls and boys involved, as well as their torn-apart communities.

The Bad Kids

Director Keith Fulton, Lou Pepe
Producers Keith Fulton, Lou Pepe
Premiere 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Special Jury Award for Vérité Filmmaking

At a remote Mojave Desert high school, extraordinary educators believe that empathy and life skills, more than academics, give at-risk students command of their own futures. This coming-of-age story watches education combat the crippling effects of poverty in the lives of these so-called “bad kids.”

Beach Rats

Director Eliza Hittman
Producers Brad Becker-Parton, Andrew Goldman, Drew P. Houpt, Paul Mezey
Premiere 2017 Sundance Film Festival, U.S. Dramatic Directing Award

An aimless teenager on the outer edges of Brooklyn struggles to escape his bleak home life and navigate questions of self-identity, as he balances his time between his delinquent friends, a potential new girlfriend, and older men he meets online.

Before You Know It

Director Hannah Pearl Utt
Producers Mallory Schwartz, Josh Hetzler, James Brown
Premiere 2019 Sundance Film Festival

A long-kept family secret thrusts codependent, thirtysomething sisters Rachel and Jackie Gurner into a literal soap opera. A journey that proves that you really can come of age, at any age.

Blowin' Up

Director Stephanie Wang-Breal
Producers Carrie Weprin
Premiere 2018 Tribeca Film Festival

Blowin’ Up looks at sex work, prostitution, and human trafficking through the lens of our nation’s first human-trafficking intervention court in Queens, New York.

Bull

Director Annie Silverstein
Producers Bert Marcus, Heather Rae, Audrey Rosenberg, Monique Walton, Ryan Zacarias
Premiere 2019 Cannes Film Festival

In a near-abandoned subdivision west of Houston, a wayward teen runs headlong into her equally willful and unforgiving neighbor, an aging bullfighter who’s seen his best days in the arena; it’s a collision that will change them both.

Filmmaker Deliverables​

If selected, filmmakers will collaborate with the Catalyst team and expert advisors through a rigorous preparations process during the weeks leading up to Catalyst Forum in the following ways:

  • Further developing a viable financing plan, including full project budget, recoupment waterfall, and crediting tiers.
  • Preparing and rehearsing a live project presentation led by the director and producer that includes the project’s story, footage or still images (if applicable), budget and financing overview, and distribution and outreach plan.
  • Creating a designed project deck to circulate to investors.
  • Building a detailed communications plan to engage with interested and committed investors post-forum.

Applications & Timeline​

Catalyst applications are solicited by invitation only. When applying, you will be asked to upload your script (for fiction projects) or supply footage (for nonfiction projects), key team bios, budget total, financing raised and sought, production timeline, and links to previous work, among other key materials.

Application Timeline

  • March–May 2021—Application period
  • July 2021—Projects selected
  • July–September 2021—Filmmaker preparations
  • September 2021—Catalyst Forum

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