“Risk...can be the catalyst that propels you forward.”

—Robert Redford

PRE 1980

A Man and his Motorcycle

Robert Redford happens upon the beautiful Provo Canyon and purchases the land that will later become a center for indie filmmaking.

Sundance Institute's president and founder, Robert Redford, during the summer Labs | © 1981 Unknown for Sundance Institute


The Place That Started It All
On a cross-country motorcycle trip, Robert Redford is inspired by the remote location and wildness of Provo Canyon and the majestic Mt. Timpanogos. He purchases two acres and builds a small cabin with his own hands.


The Name "Sundance"
Redford purchases 5,000 acres in the same area and names the land Sundance, after his role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That same year, he opens Sundance Mountain Resort to the public and designates a vast majority of the land as a wilderness preserve.

Sundance Mountain Resort | © 1995 Sandria Miller for Sundance Institute

1980 - 1984

A Sense of Place for Emerging Filmmakers

Redford establishes the Sundance Institute to bolster the field of independent storytelling and help emerging artists hone their craft.

1981 Directors Lab | © 1981 Sharon M. Beard for Sundance Institute


Founding of Sundance Institute
Robert Redford gathers a group of colleagues and friends at Sundance, Utah, to examine if an institute could be created that reasserts the importance of craft, story, and the human being in the art and business of making movies. The meeting marks the beginnings of the nonprofit Sundance Institute.

Institute planning meeting | © 1981 Unknown for Sundance Institute


The First Lab
At the resort, the Sundance Institute holds its first lab for 15 independent filmmakers to develop their original projects in the company of such advisors as Sydney Pollack and Waldo Salt. By providing resources in an environment that supports the creative process, the lab encourages each filmmaker to tell an original story in his or her own unique voice.

Robert Redford on set | © 1984 John Schaefer for Sundance Institute


El Norte Brings New Audiences to Indie Film
Gregory Nava’s El Norte becomes the first lab-supported film to be produced. Critically acclaimed, El Norte tells of the plight of undocumented immigrants from Guatemala and their journey to the United States. The film earns Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas a nomination for the Academy Award for best writing.

Creative Advisor Waldo Salt and El Norte filmmakers Anna Thomas and Gregory Nava | © 1981 Sharon M. Beard for Sundance Institute


From Screen to Stage
Forming what would later become the Institute’s Theater Program, the Utah Playwrights Conference formally becomes the Sundance Playwrights Laboratory.

1984 Playwrights Lab | © 1984 Unknown for Sundance Institute

1985 - 1989

Staking a Claim for Independents

The Institute finds its platform for independent voices by holding its first film festival, while expanding year-round artist program offerings and widening its reach outside of Utah.

1987 Composers Lab | © 1987 Unknown for Sundance Institute


The First Film Festival
The Sundance Institute assumes creative and administrative control of the 1985 U.S. Film Festival (later renamed the Sundance Film Festival) and expands it to a 10-day showcase for new American independent narrative and documentary films, in addition to a program of international films.


Creative Exchange in Latin America and Japan
Building on ties to international artists, the Institute launches the Latin American Exchange Program and Sundance Film Festival in Tokyo to foster creative exchange and create opportunities for storytellers abroad.


Screenwriting, Music in Film, and Choreography
Identifying a gap in resources for artists of differing disciplines within the filmmaking field, the Institute establishes labs to support emerging composers, intensive script development, and choreography for film.

1987 Dance Lab | © 1987 Sandria Miller for Sundance Institute


sex, lies, and videotape Makes Waves
Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape wins the Dramatic Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. It goes on to become the most widely successful independent film released up to this time, and the Sundance Film Festival cements its status as the premiere forum for indie film.

Steven Soderbergh accepts the Dramatic Audience Award for sex, lies, and videotape | © 1989 Sandria Miller for Sundance Institute

1990 - 1994

Film Industry Takes Notice

A new wave of independent filmmakers shakes up the industry, and the Institute launches its first official program for Native filmmakers.

Quentin Tarantino and Steve Buscemi workshop a scene from Reservoir Dogs | © 1991 Sandria Miller for Sundance Institute


Park City After Dark
The Park City at Midnight section—a mix of horror, comedies, and genre-defying films—is introduced at the Festival as a “special showcase of the most challenging but rewarding film experiences from around the world brought to you at the most arduous hour.”

Reservoir Dogs Gets Its Start
At the Directors Lab, Quentin Tarantino workshops his debut film, Reservoir Dogs, which then goes on to premiere at the 1992 Festival.

Small Films Get Big

Daughters of the Dust (1991), Paris Is Burning (1991), Slacker (1991), In the Soup (1992), El Mariachi (1993), Clerks (1994), Hoop Dreams (1994), Mi Vida Loca (1994), Reality Bites (1994)


Partnership Leads to First Spanish-Language Lab
The Sundance Institute co-sponsors the first Mexican Screenwriters Lab in collaboration with the University of Guadalajara. Lab fellow Guillermo del Toro brings his screenplay The Devil’s Backbone to continue development at the lab.


Solidifying a Commitment to Native Filmmakers
Affirming its long-held commitment to Native American filmmakers, the Institute creates an initiative to support Native and Indigenous artists and a Festival section to showcase their work.

Robert Redford speaks with Native filmmakers | © 1994 Sandria Miller for Sundance Institute

1995 - 1999

Reaching Beyond the Mountain

While independent film is finding a footing within the larger moviemaking landscape, championing creative and underrepresented voices is the driving force for further expansion and support.

Chris Eyre workshops a scene from Smoke Signals | © 1995 Sandria Miller for Sundance Institute


A First for Native Film
Smoke Signals, directed by Chris Eyre and written by Sherman Alexie, is the first film written and directed by Native Americans. The lab-supported film goes on to win the 1998 Festival’s Dramatic Audience Award and Dramatic Filmmaker Trophy and becomes the first Native film to receive a commercial release.


Outreach to Latin America, Europe, and China
The Institute further expands its international reach with Latin American Producers Conferences held in Mexico, Brazil, and Cuba, as well as Screenwriters Labs in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Central Europe. The Sundance Film Festival in Beijing marks the first-ever festival of American independent film in China.


Preserving Indie Film History
In partnership with UCLA, the Institute forms the Sundance Collection at UCLA, an archive dedicated to the collection and preservation of independent cinema.

Courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive


Boys Don't Cry
Writer-director Kimberly Peirce develops Boys Don’t Cry at the Directors Lab. The groundbreaking film, based on the true story of a transgender man starting over in a small Nebraska town, goes on to earn Hilary Swank the 2000 Academy Award for Best Actress.

Kimberly Peirce works with actress Summer Phoenix | © 1997 Fred Hayes for Sundance Institute

2000 - 2004

Funding Gets Real, Film Goes Digital

Further cementing its support of diverse storytelling in craft and form, the Institute expands opportunities for documentary and theater makers and embraces the rising influence of digital video.

I Am My Own Wife at the Theatre Lab | © 2000 Jennifer Hathorne for Sundance Institute


The Festival Ventures into the Digital Domain
As many in the industry debate whether digital is here to stay, the Sundance Film Festival sees the technological shift as an opportunity for artists and is one of the first festivals to offer digital projection.

New Opportunities for Theater Makers
The Institute’s Theater Program launches the Sundance Playwrights Retreat at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, as well as its first lab dedicated to the development of musical and ensemble theater at the White Oak Plantation in Florida.


Investing in Documentary
The Soros Documentary Fund becomes the Sundance Documentary Fund and is adopted as a core program of the Institute. The Documentary Film Program also expands to offer creative and strategic support in addition to providing grants for nonfiction filmmakers.

Born into Brothels | Film still courtesy of Born into Brothels


Composing and Storytelling for Docs
Newly established, the Documentary Film Program quickly evolves to offer a Composers Lab to enhance the role of music in documentary film, with support from the Film Music Program, and an Edit and Storytelling Lab to provide creative support through the editing phase of nonfiction storytelling.


Pulitzer Prize-Winning Theater
Developed by Doug Wright with the support of the Institute’s Theater Program, I Am My Own Wife is awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Tony Award for best play, and the Tony Award for best actor in recognition of Jefferson Mays’s performance.


Eagles, Vampires, and Wilderpeople
New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi’s first professional filmmaking effort— Two Cars, One Night—is programmed in the Native Forum at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. He goes on to present five more films at the Festival, including Lab-supported projects Eagle vs. Shark and Boy, and supports new generations of Indigenous filmmakers through his continued involvement with the Native Program (now called the Indigenous Program).

Two Cars, One Night film still | Film still courtesy of Two Cars, One Night

Eagles, Vampires and Wilderpeople
2005 - 2009

Fresh Perspectives Push the Art and Form of Storytelling

International film and the convergence of storytelling and emerging technology take center stage, while artist opportunities expand to encompass creative producing.

Creative Advisor Charlayne Woodard with the Theatre Program in East Africa | © 2008 Unknown for Sundance Institute


Storytelling Transcends Boundaries
The Sundance Film Festival launches its World Cinema Competition, elevating the profile of international filmmakers at the Festival, along with the New Frontier section, which celebrates innovative work at the intersection of film, art, and technology.

Hetty and Leonard Retel Helmrich, winners of the Documentary World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Shape of the Moon | © 2005 Fred Hayes/WireImage


Theater Goes Global
The Theatre Program forms global connections through the Stary Theatre of Krakow, Poland, to offer a theatre workshop and the first annual Theatre Lab in East Africa on the island of Manda, which is the start of a long-standing commitment to cross-cultural exchange for theatre makers.

2010 Theatre Lab on Manda | © 2010 Sundance Institute | Photo by Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann


Supporting the Independent Producer
Recognizing the crucial role independent producers play in finding, championing, and shaping original stories, the Creative Producing Initiative is launched to nurture emerging producers with project-specific support through labs, grants, and long-term advisor relationships.

Crafting Her Own Story
Dee Rees workshops her first film, Pariah, during the Directors and Screenwriters Labs, and she later premieres it at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, where it wins the Dramatic Excellence in Cinematography Award. Rees goes on to write and direct the critically acclaimed Mudbound and receives the Sundance Institute Vanguard Award, which celebrates innovation, originality, independent spirit, and visionary storytelling.

Dee Rees workshops Pariah | © 2008 Fred Hayes for Sundance Institute


Intensive Lab for Native Filmmakers
The Institute offers its first Native Filmmakers Lab on the homelands of the Mescalero Apache tribe in New Mexico.

Sterlin Harjo, Native American & Indigenous Program Director Bird Runningwater, and Taika Waititi at Native Screenwriters Lab | © 2011 Sundance Institute | Photo by Chelsea Winstanley

2010 - 2014

New Channels for Independent Voices

As storytelling technologies and platforms transform how art is created and experienced, artist support grows to ensure innovative stories continue to be developed and heard.

Nonny de la Peña with VR headset | © 2012 Fred Hayes/Getty Images


Harnessing Digital Platforms
In response to the new opportunities for reaching audiences created by emerging technologies, the Institute launches #ArtistServices, later renamed the Creative Distribution Initiative. The program allows Sundance Institute alumni to retain ownership of their work while reaching audiences through leading digital platforms like iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, and others.

Developing Resonant Stories through Emerging Technologies
The dynamic work presented at New Frontier during the Festival inspires the Institute to launch the New Frontier Story Lab, deepening its support for the storytelling pioneers working with new mediums and methodologies.


Experimentation Revolutionizes Storytelling
Recognizing the value of VR as a storytelling tool, Nonny de la Peña is invited to present her immersive piece Hunger in Los Angeles at the 2012 Festival. The invitation prompts de la Peña’s intern Palmer Luckey to create a mobile version of USC’s VR headset, which becomes an early manifestation of Oculus Rift. This marks the beginning of the multi-billion dollar gold rush among the technology, gaming, and film industries to bring viable virtual reality to the masses.


Festival Goes Abroad and Shorts Tour the U.S.
With a goal of connecting with new audiences and building community, Sundance Film Festival: London, Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong, and the Short Film Tour are launched.

Frank screening at Sundance London Film and Music Festival | © 2014 Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

New Paths to Production
Leading the call for diversity in media, the Institute launches three initiatives to open new paths to production: Women at Sundance, which supports women storytellers; Catalyst, which connects emerging artists with creative investors; and the Outreach and Inclusion Initiative, which reaches new communities of storytellers and audiences.

Women at Sundance Brunch | © 2017 Sundance Institute | Photo by Carla Boecklin


Sound Design, Scores, and Skywalker
The Film Music Program partners with Skywalker Sound to expand its Composers Lab to include sound design. The Music and Sound Design Lab at Skywalker Sound enhances the role of music in film by bringing together filmmakers, emerging composers, and Skywalker’s in-house sound designers.

2013 Composers Lab | © 2013 Sundance Institute | Photo by Brandon Joseph Baker


Enter Episodic Content
With the explosion of episodic content on cable and online platforms, the Feature Film Program creates the Episodic Story Lab, offering writers an opportunity to learn how to develop stories and characters that evolve over multiple episodes.

2015 - 2019

Maximizing Artist Reach and Impact

Responding to the changing needs of artists, new initiatives broaden opportunities for storytellers around the world, helping to amplify their voices.

Sundance staffers speak with students and emerging filmmakers | © 2017 Sundance Institute | Photo by Don Miller


Investing in Young Filmmakers
The Institute kicks off its new Ignite Fellows program, providing a curated Festival experience for emerging filmmakers ages 18–25. In its first year, the program brings fellows to the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City and Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong.


Support Beyond the First Film
The Feature Film Program introduces the FilmTwo Initiative to support independent filmmakers as they develop and complete their second feature film—often the greatest challenge to a sustainable career as a filmmaker.

Top: Skate Kitchen | Film still courtesy of Skate Kitchen. Bottom: The Wolfpack | Film still courtesy of The Wolfpack

Recognizing the Art of Nonfiction
The Documentary Film Program completes its pilot year of the Art of Nonfiction Initiative to elevate the art and craft of cinematic nonfiction storytelling.

Documentary Film Program Director Tabitha Jackson and Kitty Green at the Art of Nonfiction Retreat | © 2017 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jen Fairchild


Expansion to MENA
In an effort to broaden opportunities for cross-cultural discovery, the 2016 Theatre Lab moves from the Sundance Mountain Resort to Morocco for a joint American and Middle Eastern/North African Theater Lab. In 2017, the Theater Program holds a residency program for Europe-based Syrian playwrights to workshop new works in Arabic, with support from an international cohort of mentors and professionals.


Showcasing Episodic Storytelling
While episodic content had already been part of the Festival’s programming for several years, in 2018 the Indie Episodic category is officially introduced to showcase new talent in indie TV and build a market for this budding industry.


Innovation Through Access and Inclusion
The 2019 Sundance Film Festival introduced the Press Inclusion Initiative, a program that offers stipend grants to defray travel costs for over 50 freelance critics and journalists while providing unprecedented access to the Festival through a minimum allotment of top-tier credentials for journalists from underrepresented communities, and Talent Forum, a multi-day event that connects artists and industry. Additionally, 2019 saw the public commencement of Sundance Co//ab, a community learning platform for creators around the globe.

Ryan Coogler and Jenna Wortham speak during a Talent Forum keynote conversation. | © 2019 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jemal Countess

2020 - Present

Independent Together

As inequities in society were laid bare by extraordinary circumstances, the Institute chose to meet the moment and invest in an equitable and accessible future for artists and audiences.

© 2020 Fanyana Hlabangane for Sundance Institute


Respond and Reimagine
In the wake of closures and restrictions due to COVID-19, the Sundance Institute created the Respond & Reimagine Plan, which redistributed funds to directly support the urgent needs of artists, as well as arts organizations from around the world who are leading the field in support of artists from historically marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The summer labs were also held online, bringing participants together virtually on Sundance Collab.


Meeting Audiences Where They Are
The ongoing pandemic led the Institute to offer the 2021 and 2022 Sundance Film Festivals digitally via a custom-designed online platform alongside screenings at local cinemas and arts organizations across the U.S. in the form of Satellite Screens. Huge strides in accessibility led to tripled attendance and industry praise for setting a high standard in user experience for screenings and in the all-new New Frontier experience, which allowed artists and Festivalgoers to mingle in a virtual space.

Left-to-right, top-to-bottom: New Frontier Film Party; CODA team celebrates during the Awards Ceremony; ‘The Big Conversation: Come Together’ panel; Circle Cinema Satellite Screen in Tulsa, OK | Photo courtesy of Circle Cinema

CODA and Summer of Soul Win Big
CODA and Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) take home multiple awards from the 2021 Festival, including Grand Jury Prizes for U.S. Dramatic and Documentary respectively. Both were also recognized with Academy Awards, with CODA winning Best Picture, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, and Best Adapted Screenplay, and Summer of Soul winning Best Documentary (Feature).

Ahmir 'Questlove' Thompson responds to winning both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Documentary for Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Equitable and Accessible Future for Artists and Audiences
Building on investments made over the last several years, the Institute expands funding opportunities and support for Latinx and Asian American and Pacific Islander artists, as well as creating a new initiative focused on advancing transgender storytellers of color. In turn, the Institute continues its commitment to deepening outreach to and support of artists with disabilities, including the addition of a year-round team to help amplify accessibility at the Sundance Film Festival and beyond.


Community Gathers Again in Person
Select labs return in person in 2022, providing the space for expansive creative and collaborative opportunities and risk taking with the full community of fellows, advisors, and staff.

Left-to-right, top-to-bottom: Creative advisor Patrick Brice and fellow Tim Worrall during the 2022 Native Lab. © 2022 Sundance Institute | Photo by Shayla Blatchford; Script supervisor Donna Parish (center, left) and fellow Zandashé Brown (center, right) on the set of The Matriarch. © 2022 Sundance Institute | Photo by Ash Gerlach; Directors Lab fellow Neo Sora on set of Earthquake. © 2022 Sundance Institute | Photo by Sam Emenogu; A group photo of the 2022 Documentary Edit and Story Lab fellows. © 2022 Sundance Institute | Photo by Miguel Mendoza; Lab fellow Jude Chehab, contributing editor Stephanie Andreou, and editor and producer Fahd Ahmed work on Q. © 2022 Sundance Institute | Photo by Miguel Mendoza; Glenn Kaino and Riva Marker during the 2022 Producers Summit. © 2022 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jonathan Hickerson