2022 Documentary Fund Winter Cycle FAQ

GENERAL

Do you have deadlines?

The Sundance Institute Documentary Fund accepts submissions via two open calls per year, with decisions being made in the summer and winter. The deadline for the 2022 Documentary Fund winter grant cycle is Monday, July 26, at 2 p.m. MT.

Do you offer deadline extensions?

No. 

How long do your decisions take?

Decisions typically take four to seven 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 project'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 six 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 and 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 have included Always in Season; American Factory; Collective; Crip Camp; Of Fathers and Sons; Hale County This Morning, This Evening; Minding the Gap; The Mole Agent; and Softie.  Please note that we do not fund NGO, advocacy, branded content, 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.

ELIGIBILITY

Who should apply?

The Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program supports independent nonfiction films with budgets under $1,000,000 USD from all over the world. Films may be in any language, but we ask that proposals are written in English and that visual materials be subtitled in English. 

Creative and editorial control must be held by members of the films’ key creative teams.

For United States productions, we prioritize films led by artists from historically underrepresented communities. Projects that focus on historically underrepresented communities must have a key creative from the community or with deep ties to the community in a power-holding position represented on the team. 

For international productions, we prioritize films led by artists from Africa, China, India, Latin America, and the Middle East. Indigenous artists globally and artists from the above regions living in the diaspora are also prioritized. 

Applicants 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 project'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 six months before an anticipated premiere. Picture-locked cuts are also ineligible for post-production funding.

Projects that have previously received a grant through the Documentary Fund are not eligible to apply for additional funding through this open call. Contact DFP staff for more information.

How does the Documentary Fund define historically underrepresented communities?

We define these communities as communities that have been historically marginalized by virtue of their ability, citizenship status, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion, or sexual orientation. 

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 Documentary Short Film Fund call for information on grants for shorts)

  • Series

  • NGO films

  • Advocacy films

  • Educational films

  • Branded content

Are short films eligible for funding?

We do not fund stand-alone short films through the Documentary Fund. However, we have an annual call for shorts through the Documentary Short Film Fund. This fund’s priorities and eligibility change annually, so please check our website for current information.

I am making a movie based on true events. Is my project eligible for funding?

Fiction films, even those based on true events, are not eligible. Please refer to the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program for opportunities. 

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.

WRITTEN PROPOSAL

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.

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, crowdsourcing, producer investments, and fundraisers. A fundraising strategy should clearly distinguish between funds you have applied for and funds you have already secured.

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 U.S. dollars. If you have never made a budget and need a sample, you may access an example here. This template is only a general sample and should be tailored to your project. You may also use your own budget format as long as it provides the costs of the entire project.

What is meant by “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, which alerts 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, and only applicants applying for funding through the Sundance Institute | Kendeda Fund are required to detail an impact plan in their proposal.

VISUAL SAMPLES

I am already in 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 or post-production proposals with very short reels (or with only trailers, teasers, or brief selects) are simply not competitive against the longer samples and rough cuts being submitted, and they 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 previous 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 you may choose not to submit a previous work. A previous work from a different member of the team (e.g., producer, editor, cinematographer) will not be accepted.

How long does my current sample have to be?

Development applicants are encouraged (but not required) to include a visual sample of up to 15 minutes in length. These visual materials can include scene selects, teasers, or other edited footage. Production and post-production applications require a sample that demonstrates characters, story arc or structure, and visual treatment. A minimum of 10 minutes of edited footage is required for production applications and 20 minutes of edited footage for post-production applications. The Sundance Institute guarantees watching up to 30 minutes of visual material provided. 

How long does my completed previous work have to be?

Completed previous work may be any length from short to feature. It may be in any genre. If you have multiple previous works or several co-directors, please select one previous work that best reflects the vision for your new documentary. Reviewers will not review more than one previous work sample. 

Other than the work-in-progress sample and the completed previous work sample, are there any other video clips or samples I need to provide?

No.

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 or sample and to your completed previous work. We recommend using Vimeo or YouTube for this service. 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, provide your 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 link and password in your written proposal as well. We do not accept WeTransfer, Dropbox, Google Drive, 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.

APPLICATION PROCESS

How are decisions regarding funding made?

Proposals go through a multistage review, with selected submissions sent for Sundance Institute Documentary Fund committee consideration. The committee then meets to make recommendations regarding which projects are funded. Proposals are evaluated on several criteria, including artful film language, engaging storytelling, originality, feasibility, contemporary cultural relevance, and potential to reach and connect with its intended audience. The Documentary Fund prioritizes funding films from early career and emerging artists. To that end, film teams’ experience level and access to resources, both financial and creative, is taken into consideration.

Who makes up the committee?

The Sundance Institute 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) and Sapana Sakya (Center for Asian American Media); directors Juan Pablo González, Loira Limbal, and Kimberly Reed; editors Alex O’Flinn and Carla Gutierrez; curators and film critics Ela Bittencourt, Serra Ciliv, and Nico Marzano; and producers Joslyn Barnes, Su Kim, and Angela Tucker. 

What percentage of applications are actually funded?

The review process is highly competitive. We review approximately 2,200 proposals each year and fund 50 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 four to seven months, but occasionally they will be made sooner. Please do not contact us to inquire about your status, as we cannot provide status updates. You will be notified 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. 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, 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 and thematic depth of the approach.

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.

Can I provide project updates once my application is submitted?

You may send any significant updates to dfp@sundance.org. 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?

Yes.

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 Institute Documentary Fund remain eligible to apply for the Sundance Film Festival directly.

Does receiving a grant from the Sundance Institute's 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 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. To distribute funds, we require director and producer agreements as well as a clear chain of title to be in place. Our contract requests are verbal and logo acknowledgment in the end credits of the film and on your promotional materials, and a high resolution digital copy of the film. 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.

May I ask you to review an element of my proposal (e.g., my website, trailer, or synopsis) before I apply?

No. We only review complete proposals submitted through our online portal.

I still have questions. Can I call you to discuss my film?

No. Unfortunately, we are unable to respond to inquiries about our application process via a call. If you have read the entire FAQ and you still have specific questions, please email dfp@sundance.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.

TECHNICAL SUPPORT

How do I reduce the file size of my PDF?

Check out this link.

How do I convert my film from a DVD to an uploadable digital file?

Download and Install HandBrake here, and learn how to use Handbrake here.

I’m having trouble uploading my film to Vimeo. Can you help?

Check out this link.