“Risk...can be the catalyst that propels you forward.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meeting Audiences Where They Are
The ongoing pandemic led the Institute to offer the 2021 Sundance Film Festival 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.