SUNDANCE DOCUMENTARY FUND FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)
To view a printable version of the FAQ, click here and scroll down to the FAQ section.
Do you have deadlines?
At what point in my project should I apply?
What kinds of films do you support?
What are some specific examples of films you have funded?
Is there an application fee to apply? Who should apply?
I am a filmmaker from a country outside of the U.S. am I eligible to apply?
Is my project eligible for funding?
Are short films eligible for funding?
I am making a movie based on true events. Is my project eligible for funding?
My project is finished. Can I apply for funding to pay for film transfers or reimburse debt, etc.?
I do not have any funds secured to date, am I still eligible for funding?
I am already into production but do not have a 10 minute sample, am I still eligible for funding?
I am a first time director. May I send in someone else’s work as my Completed Prior Work?
How long does my completed prior work have to be?
Other than the Work-In-Progress sample and the Prior Directing Sample, are there any other video clips or samples that I need to provide?
What format should I submit my visual material in?
Can I submit my visual samples on DVD?
What is meant by "Contemporary Cultural Relevance"?
What is a Story Summary?
What is a Distribution/Marketing Strategy?
What is meant by Audience Engagement?
What is a Fundraising Strategy?
How long should the written materials be?
Does my proposal have to be in English?
If I am applying for Development Funds, can my budget cover the Development portion of the project only?
How are decisions regarding funding made?
Who makes up the Committee?
What percentage of applications are actually funded?
How will I know if the Fund has received my proposal?
When will I find out if I have been awarded a grant?
If my project is declined, will staff provide feedback?
May I reapply for a grant if my proposal is declined?
If my proposal is declined, what are the chances my project will be accepted if I reapply?
If I choose to reapply, do I need to submit a complete proposal online?
Can I submit more than one proposal per cycle?
If I apply at the beginning of the Open Call period and my project is declined, may I re-apply later in the Open Call period?
If I apply for Development funding during this round and I get selected, can I apply for Production or Post-Production funds during the next round?
Can I provide project updates once my application is submitted?
If I receive a grant or award from another source, am I still eligible to apply for Sundance Funding?
If I receive a grant from Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, will my film screen at the Sundance Film Festival?
Does receiving a grant from Sundance Institute Documentary Fund preclude me from working with any broadcaster or distributor?
If I receive a grant, what are the terms of the contract?
What subject category does my film fall into?
May I ask you to review an element of my proposal before I apply? For example, my website, trailer, or synopsis?
I still have questions. Can I call or Skype with you to discuss my film?
Where can I find additional answers to questions?
1. Do you have deadlines?
We have a Rolling Open Call. The move to a Rolling Open Call allows filmmakers to submit applications only when they can best demonstrate their artistic intent, rather than according to pre-determined deadlines. Sundance Institute reserves the right to solicit film projects at its sole discretion at any time related to Institute or Documentary Film Program priorities.
2. At what point in my project should I apply?
Submit your film only when you have written or visual material that demonstrates your creative and storytelling intent. You may submit at any production phase from development through post-production. ALL proposals MUST convey some vision for a finished film. Projects that have not yet secured characters or subjects, are unable to articulate a story structure, or unable to explain the story's driving central question are discouraged. We are unable to consider proposals for story research. You do not need any prior funding or a fiscal sponsor in order to apply.
3. What kinds of films do you support?
We support independent nonfiction films that display artful film language, effective storytelling, originality and feasibility, contemporary cultural relevance, and potential to reach and connect with its intended audience.
4. What are some specific examples of films you have funded?
Recently supported films include Hooligan Sparrow, Whose Streets?, Casting JonBenet, Cameraperson, and I Am Not Your Negro. Please note: we do not fund strictly historical, biographical, NGO, or educational films.
5. Is there an application fee to apply?
No. It is free to apply.
6. Who should apply?
Independent filmmakers making cinematic non-fiction films from anywhere in the world are welcome to submit project proposals. Films may be in any language with English subtitles or transcript. First time filmmakers are eligible. Prior funding, fiscal sponsorship, and US producers are not requirements.
Please note: Audience Engagement grants are only open to previously granted projects.
7. I am a filmmaker from a country outside of the U.S. am I eligible to apply?
Yes. We support Filmmakers globally without restriction.
8. Is my project eligible for funding?
We fund projects that are Feature Length Documentaries (52 minutes and longer). Hybrid/animated, and experimental documentaries are also eligible to apply. We do NOT fund:
- Fiction films
- Short films
- Strictly historical, biographical, NGO or educational films.
9. Are short films eligible for funding?
No. We currently only fund projects that will range in length from full broadcast hour (52-56 minutes, depending on the intended outlet) to long format features. However, full length films that will conduct versioning for educational modules, multi-platform purposes, or community engagement etc. are eligible overall.
10. I am making a movie based on true events. Is my project eligible for funding?
Fiction films, even based on true events, are not eligible to apply. If your characters are actors, or are reading a script, it is probably not a documentary film (re-enacted segments are fine as a small portion of a larger documentary film).
11. My project is finished. Can I apply for funding to pay for film transfers or reimburse debt, etc.?
No. Tape to film transfers, film prints and debt reimbursement to complete work are NOT eligible for funding. We generally do not provide solely completion funding.
12. I do not have any funds secured to date, am I still eligible for funding?
Yes. Prior funding commitments are not required. Your written proposal should include a Fundraising Strategy for raising funds for your film, irrespective of a Sundance Institute Documentary Fund grant. In addition to foundations and broadcast license agreements, you might include private donations, in-kind support, crowd sourcing, producer investment, and fundraisers. In your Fundraising Strategy, you should clearly distinguish between funds you have applied for and funds you have already secured.
13. I am already into production but do not have a 10 minute sample, am I still eligible for funding?
You may apply for funding in the Development category or choose to wait to apply until you have the necessary material. Production/Post-Production proposals with very short reels (or with only trailers, teasers, or brief selects) are simply not competitive against the longer rough cuts being submitted.
14. I am a first time director. May I send in someone else’s work as my Completed Prior Work?
A visual sample that conveys the director's storytelling ability is preferred. If this is a directorial debut, you may submit a film you have shot or edited instead, or a previous work from a key creative member of the team (e.g. editor, cinematographer), will also be accepted.
15. How long does my completed prior work have to be?
Completed prior work may be any length from short to feature. It may be in any genre. You must submit it in its entirety. We will not consider segments of different projects on one reel as the Directing Sample. If you have multiple prior works, or several co-directors, please select one previous work which best reflects the vision for your new documentary.
16. Other than the Work-In-Progress sample and the Prior Directing Sample, are there any other video clips or samples that I need to provide?
17. What format should I submit my visual material in?
We ONLY accept samples via online streaming links. You MUST provide an online streaming link and password to your current rough cut/sample, and to your prior directing sample. We recommend using Vimeo (vimeo.com) for this service. When you register and upload your files, make your film downloadable. Your film should be available FOR AT LEAST 6 MONTHS after you submit your application. Please do not update or change your uploaded file or its password once you submit your application. When you apply for a grant through our website, paste in your Vimeo link and password. Please double check that you have entered the password correctly (remembering that Vimeo passwords are case sensitive). If we do not have the correct password, we will not be able to evaluate your project. Include the Vimeo link and password in your written proposal, as well. Please note, we do not accept WeTransfer, Drop Box or other such file transfer services for the visual material delivery.
18. Can I submit my visual samples on DVD?
No. All samples MUST be submitted as a link via a streaming platform such as Vimeo or Youtube. NO DVDs will be accepted NO DVDs will be accepted. IF you live in a country with significant impediments to internet access, you may email DFP@sundance.org to request a DVD exemption.
19. What is meant by "Contemporary Cultural Relevance"?
Please articulate what is timely and significant about your story, and how the stakes matter not only for your primary character but for broader audiences or contemporary cultures as well.
20. What is a Story Summary?
The Story Summary (or narrative synopsis) should convey the film's story and story structure. Describe the primary characters or subjects and their potential journey, the mission, stakes, central question and possible outcomes. You are welcome to describe any important artistic elements or creative approaches.
21. What is a Distribution/Marketing Strategy?
Outline the intended festival, theatrical, broadcast, home video, or educational distribution for your project. Your distribution/marketing strategy should be a concrete explanation of the best outlets for your particular film, and what you will do to have your film reach its intended audience. You do not need secured agreements in order to include them in your proposed strategy.
22. What is meant by Audience Engagement?
Audience Engagement is a strategic campaign to encourage individuals and communities to move from passive to active participants on the issue your film broaches. Engagement campaigns are distinct from distribution (which puts films on screens), and from marketing and outreach (alerting viewers to see films). Rather, engagement is designed to activate audiences and stakeholders toward a specific goal. Not all films are necessarily suited for social engagement.
23. What is a Fundraising Strategy?
Your Fundraising Strategy is your plan for raising your film budget. In addition to grants and broadcast license agreements, you might include private donations, in-kind support, crowd sourcing, producer investment, and fundraisers. A Fundraising Strategy should clearly distinguish between funds you have applied for and funds you have already secured.
24. How long should the written materials be?
We appreciate clear and concise language that still richly explains the intended film. The guidelines in the Proposal Checklist are suggestive. There is no word count limit.
25. Does my proposal have to be in English?
Yes. We can only consider proposals written in English, accompanied by a budget translated into USD, and visual material in English or with English subtitles or transcript.
26. If I am applying for Development Funds, can my budget cover the Development portion of the project only?
No. A budget covering the costs of the ENTIRE project from development through distribution is required for every funding category. This is a 1-2 page comprehensive line item budget in US dollars. If you have never made a budget and need a sample, you may access one on our website (http://sundance.org/programs/documentary-film/#grants). This template is only a general sample, and should be tailored to your project. You may also use your own budget format, so long as it provides the costs of the entire project.
27. How are decisions regarding funding made?
Proposals go through a multi-stage review, with selected submissions sent for Sundance Documentary Fund Committee consideration. The Committee then meets to make recommendations regarding which projects are funded. Proposals to the Sundance Documentary Fund are evaluated on artful or innovative film language, clear storytelling, originality and feasibility, contemporary cultural relevance, and potential to reach and connect with its intended audience.
28. Who makes up the Committee?
The Sundance Development Fund Committee is a combination of Human Rights experts and professional film artists. Past panelist have included Laura Silber (Open Society Foundation), Terry McGovern (Ford Foundation), Richard Pena (Film Society of Lincoln Center), Alan Jenkins (Opportunity Agenda), Cynthia Lopez (P.O.V.), and Academy Award nominees Arthur Dong, Kirby Dick, Jessica Yu, Rob Epstein, and Marshall Curry.
29. What percentage of applications are actually funded?
The review process is highly competitive. We review up to 2000 proposals annually, but will generally fund no more than 60. We fund between 3-4% of submissions.
30. How will I know if the Fund has received my proposal?
After you press submit on the online application, a confirmation page will appear. You should also receive a confirmation email once your application is submitted. If you have not received an email, please double check your spam filter and setting.
31. When will I find out if I have been awarded a grant?
Award decisions take two to six months. Please do not contact us to inquire about your status, as we can not provide status updates. You will be notified by mail or email once a decision has been made. In 2015, applicants will be notified on a rolling basis, as decisions are made.
32. If my project is declined, will staff provide feedback?
No. Unfortunately, we have a very limited staff, and are unable to provide feedback.
33. May I reapply for a grant if my proposal is declined?
Yes. However, we will only accept a total of two (2) applications per project, so you may only reapply one (1) time with the same project. Additionally, you may ONLY reapply when your project has advanced to a further stage of production. You may not apply multiple times within the same stage of production. (e.g. A project in Development that is declined may apply once more, for either Production or Pre-Production funds. An unsuccessful application for Production funds may reapply for Post-Production.) A project that applied for Post-Production may apply in Post-Production again, provided that the project had not applied before.) Given the number of submissions received too early and resubmitted too quickly, filmmakers are strongly discouraged from submitting nearly identical proposals twice. Please Note: This restriction will not apply retroactively. Filmmakers who have already applied unsuccessfully with the same project twice, prior to 2015, may apply with that project one (1) more time.
34. If my proposal is declined, what are the chances my project will be accepted if I reapply?
We do not encourage the resubmission of projects that have previously been declined, as they are unlikely to be successful, unless they have significantly advanced the visual sample, story, and structure, as well as elevated and refined the artistry of the approach in order to demonstrate the merits of the film and the director’s aesthetic intent.
35. If I choose to reapply, do I need to submit a complete proposal online?
Yes. Should you choose to reapply, please apply online during our Open Call. Your new submission should reflect significant development of the project since last applying, corresponding with a later stage of production. You must submit new video links accompanying your proposal.
36. Can I submit more than one proposal per cycle?
Yes, you are allowed to submit more than one proposal in the same round as long as they are for separate projects.
37. If I apply at the beginning of the Open Call period and my project is declined, may I re-apply later in the Open Call period?
No. You may not apply with the same project multiple times within the same year. If you would like to reapply, you will need to wait for the next Open Call period the following year.
38. If I apply for Development funding during this round and I get selected, can I apply for Production or Post-Production funds during the next round?
If you are awarded a grant for one stage of production, you are still eligible to apply in a different stage, but only after significant further production activity, usually in a subsequent year.
39. Can I provide project updates once my application is submitted?
No. Unfortunately due to the volume of projects that we receive, we are unable to accept unsolicited updates to proposals or rough cuts. Please do not apply until your project is ready for review. Updates will not be processed and will not be considered in the evaluation of your project. Note, the Documentary Film Program reserves the right to request updates from projects at its sole discretion at any time during the round.
40. If I receive a grant or award from another source, am I still eligible to apply for Sundance Funding?
41. If I receive a grant from Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, will my film screen at the Sundance Film Festival?
No. Grantees are encouraged to submit their completed work for festival consideration directly to the Program staff of the Sundance Film Festival, which selects films independently. Similarly, projects not selected for support by the Sundance Documentary Fund remain eligible to apply for the Sundance Film Festival directly.
42. Does receiving a grant from Sundance Institute Documentary Fund preclude me from working with any broadcaster or distributor?
No. Sundance Institute Documentary Fund awards are grants to the artist and do not encumber broadcast, theatrical, or DVD distribution rights in your project. Grants are generally considered partial support, and projects generally must seek other funding as well as license and distribution agreements in order to realize their budget.
43. If I receive a grant, what are the terms of the contract?
Grants are not recoupable, and none of your exploitable rights are encumbered. Our contract requests: acknowledgement in the end credits of the film and on your promotional materials, 6 copies of the finished film on DVD, and 1 presentation-quality master. We require narrative, financial, and distribution reports, and social impact reports, where applicable. We request your active participation in the Sundance Institute creative community through invitation-only activities to support you and your film, as well as to support other filmmakers and the independent film field globally.
44. What subject category does my film fall into?
The subject of your film should convey the general issue area that your film addresses. Although your film may fit into a number of subjects, we ask that you choose one that best represents your film. Below are our six subject areas with a brief description:
- Cultural activity and freedom of expression Films that highlight the existence of the arts and sport for community, access to knowledge and the pursuit of creative endeavors.
- Democracy, Peace and Security, Human Rights Projects working to highlight and understand human dignity and the fundamental right to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being. Work that addresses peace and security and/or focuses on the right of people to assemble, advocate or participate in democratic practices, among others.
- Economic Justice and Equity Subjects that encompass the moral principles that guide the design of our economic institutions and fairness through all segments of society.
- Environmental Sustainability Films dealing with the environment, ecology, natural resource extraction. biodiversity, conservation, climate change, green jobs among others.
- Institutional and Government Responsibility Projects seeking to highlight the institutional responsibility or promote greater transparency and accountability of corporations, governments, foundations, religious and educational institutions and other powerful interests.
- Vulnerable Populations, Tolerance and Social Inclusion Projects that address discrimination, persecution and the lives of people from diverse communities and points of view. Projects highlighting the lives of groups that are not well integrated into society because of ethnic, cultural, economic, geographic or health characteristics.
45. May I ask you to review an element of my proposal before I apply? For example, my website, trailer, or synopsis?
No. We only review complete proposals submitted through our web upload.
46. I still have questions. Can I call or Skype with you to discuss my film?
No. Unfortunately, we are unable to respond to inquiries about our application process via telephone or skype. If you have read the entire FAQ and you still have specific questions, please email email@example.com and we will be happy to try and answer them.
47. Where can I find additional answers to questions?
You may send an email query with specific questions to DFP@sundance.org. Please understand that we cannot provide status updates. If we need additional information we will contact you.