2022 Sandbox Fund: Summer Grant FAQ


Do you have deadlines?

Yes. Grantmaking deliberations for the Sandbox Fund occur three times per year. We publicly communicate submission deadlines for each round on our website.

How long do your decisions take? 

Decisions typically take 3-5 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, cannot articulate a story or structure, or cannot 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 the potential to reach and connect with the intended audience. In addition, selection criteria for the Sandbox Fund emphasize creative narrative techniques and projects that highlight diversity in science, specifically those that feature characters, topics, or disciplines that broaden and redefine what it means to be a scientist or to do science.

What are some specific examples of films you have funded?

Recently supported films include Fire of Love; All Light, Everywhere; Users; Inventing Tomorrow; Coded Bias; The Edge of All We Know; Red Heaven; and The Most Unknown. 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, or American producers are not required.

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 | Sandbox 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

  • VR projects

Are short films eligible for funding?

We do not fund standalone short films through the Sandbox Fund. However, we have an annual call for shorts through the Sundance Documentary Short Film Fund

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 | Sandbox 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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


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 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 at least 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 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 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.


How are decisions regarding funding made?

Applications go through a multistage review. Grant deliberations are made in collaboration with our partners at Sandbox Films. Applications are evaluated on their use of artful and innovative film language, clear storytelling, originality, feasibility, contemporary cultural relevance, and the potential to reach and connect with the intended audience. Additionally, science-related considerations are evaluated to ensure the projects selected reflect the intended purpose of this opportunity. Incomplete applications will be reviewed as received. 

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 five months. Please do not contact us to inquire about your status, as we cannot 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 these 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.

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, we strongly discourage filmmakers 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 — and elevated and refined the artistry of the approach in a way that demonstrates 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 Institute, can I apply for production or post-production funds from the Sandbox Fund?

If you are awarded a grant for one stage of production through any of our funding opportunities, you are still eligible to apply, usually in a subsequent year, in a different stage to the Sandbox Fund, but only after significant further production activity.

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?


If I receive a grant from the Sundance Institute | Sandbox 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 Sandbox Fund remain eligible to apply for the Sundance Film Festival directly.

Does receiving a grant from the Sundance Institute | Sandbox Fund preclude me from working with any broadcaster or distributor?

No. The Sandbox Fund awards are grants to the artist and do not encumber broadcast, theatrical, or DVD distribution rights for 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 verbal acknowledgment of our support, and our logo and corresponding crediting language should be featured in the end credits of the film and on your promotional materials. 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 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 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 still have specific questions, please email dfp@sundance.org; 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.


How do I reduce the file size of my PDF?

See instructions here.

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

Download and install Handbrake here, and learn how to use it here.

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

Check out this link.