2020 Documentary Fund: Fall Grant Cycle FAQ
Do you have deadlines?
Submissions to the Documentary Fund are accepted year-round, with decisions occurring three times per year. We publicly communicate submit-by dates for each round on our website and through our social media channels.
How long do your decisions take?
Decisions typically take three to six months.
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 or structure, or are 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.
Once your film premieres, we are unable to provide post-production funding support. We therefore encourage applicants to apply at least 6 months before an anticipated premiere. Picture-locked cuts are also ineligible for post-production funding.
What kinds of films do you support?
We support independent nonfiction films that display artful film language, effective storytelling, originality, feasibility, contemporary cultural relevance, and potential to reach and connect with its intended audience.
What are some specific examples of films you have funded?
Recently supported films include Always in Season; American Factory; The Edge of Democracy; Hale County This Morning, This Evening; Minding the Gap; Of Fathers and Sons; and One Child Nation. Please note that we do not fund NGO, advocacy or educational films. We also tend not to fund purely historical or biographical films unless they show clear contemporary relevance, or innovation in form.
Is there an application fee to apply?
No. It is free to apply.
Who should apply?
Independent filmmakers making cinematic nonfiction films from anywhere in the world are welcome to submit project proposals. Films may be in any language with English subtitles. First-time filmmakers are eligible. Prior funding, fiscal sponsorship, and American producers are not requirements.
I am a filmmaker from a country outside of the U.S. Am I eligible to apply?
Yes. We support filmmakers globally without restriction.
Is my project eligible for funding?
The Sundance Institute Documentary Fund supports 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 (please see our specific Documentary Short Film Fund call for information on grants for shorts)
- Strictly historical, biographical, NGO, or educational films.
Are short films eligible for funding?
We do not fund standalone short films through the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund. However, we have an annual call for shorts through the Sundance Documentary Short Film Fund. This fund’s priorities and eligibility change annually, so please check our website for current call information.
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.
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.
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, crowdfunding, producer investment, and fundraisers. In your fundraising strategy, you should clearly distinguish between funds you have applied for and funds you have already secured.
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 materials. Production and 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, and will be bumped down to the development category.
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.
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 project that best reflects the vision for your new documentary. Reviewers will only make time to review one sample.
Other than the work-in-progress sample and the prior directing sample, are there any other video clips or samples I need to provide?
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 (if applicable) 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 six 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 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. We do not accept WeTransfer, Dropbox, or other such file transfer services for the visual material delivery.
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. If you live in a country with significant impediments to internet access, you may email DFP@sundance.org to request a DVD exemption.
What is meant by "contemporary cultural relevance"?
Please articulate what is timely and significant about your project, and how the stakes matter not only for your primary character but for broader audiences or contemporary cultures as well.
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 may describe any important artistic elements or creative approaches.
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.
What is meant by audience engagement or impact?
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.
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.
How long should the written materials be?
We appreciate clear and concise language that richly explains the intended film. The guidelines in the proposal checklist are suggestions.
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 transcription.
If I am applying for development funds, can my submitted 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 one- to two-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. 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.
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, innovative film language, clear storytelling, originality, feasibility, contemporary cultural relevance, and potential to reach and connect with its intended audience.
Who makes up the committee?
The Sundance Documentary Fund Committee is a combination of issue area experts and professional film artists and curators. Past panelists have included Laura Silber (Open Society Foundations), Richard Peña (Film Society of Lincoln Center), and Loira Limbal (Firelight Media); filmmakers Arthur Dong, Kirby Dick, Jessica Yu, Sam Green, and Kimberly Reed; editors Alex O’Flinn and Carla Gutierrez; curators and film critics Ela Bittencourt and Nico Marzano; and producers Joslyn Barnes and Angela Tucker.
What percentage of applications are actually funded?
The review process is highly competitive. We review approximately 1,500 proposals each year and fund 40 to 60 films.
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.
When will I find out if I have been awarded a grant?
Award decisions typically take three 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 us directly by email once a decision has been made. We periodically announce new grantees throughout the year, and those press releases are not notifications.
If my project is declined, will staff provide feedback?
Unfortunately, we have a very limited staff and are unable to provide feedback to all applicants. However, projects that make it to our final stage of review are eligible to receive feedback.
May I reapply for a grant if my proposal is declined?
Yes. However, you may only reapply when your project has advanced in storytelling vision and intent. Given the number of submissions received too early and resubmitted too quickly, filmmakers are strongly discouraged from submitting nearly identical proposals or visual samples twice.
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 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.
If I choose to reapply, do I need to submit a complete proposal online?
Yes. Should you choose to reapply, please apply online with a brand-new application. Your new submission should address significant development of the project since last applying, corresponding with a later stage of production. You must submit new video links accompanying your proposal.
Can I submit more than one proposal?
Yes, you are allowed to submit more than one proposal in the same round, as long as they are for separate projects.
If I received development funding from Sundance, can I apply for production or post-production funds?
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.
Can I provide project updates once my application is submitted?
You may send any significant updates to email@example.com. However, due to the volume of projects that we receive, the Documentary Film Program does not guarantee that updates will be incorporated into the project’s review.
If I receive a grant or award from another source, am I still eligible to apply for Sundance Institute funding?
If I receive a grant from the 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. Similarly, projects not selected for support by the Documentary Fund remain eligible to apply for the Sundance Film Festival directly.
Does receiving a grant from the 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.
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: verbal and logo acknowledgement in the end credits of the film and on your promotional materials, and four copies of the finished film on DVD. We also require narrative, financial, and distribution reports, and social impact reports (if applicable). We may 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.
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 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 rights a person is inherently entitled to simply because they are 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, and 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.
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 online portal.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to try to answer them. Please understand that we cannot provide status updates. If we need additional information, we will contact you.
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