nfs grants sundance documentarWhen over half of the documentaries premiering at Sundance have been backed by a handful of well-regarded granting agencies, you ought to take notice of who those grantmakers are, and start putting together your application for next year -- NOW. Below is a breakdown of who supported which films, and how to tell if these agencies might support your work in the future.

This year, 9 out of 16 of the documentaries in the U.S. Competition at Sundance were backed by well-known funding agencies described below. (I am sorry to not include the World Competition documentaries in here; it's only because it's much harder to get information from quite a few films in that international roster.) It's hard to make a documentary, and it would help a lot to have a budget for once, not to mention an industry respected partner that will put in a good word for you. Getting one of the following grants doesn't mean you will get in to Sundance, but it might bring you that much closer. Perhaps 'grant writer' should be added to the list of crew you should recruit for your next film?

The Funders at Sundance 2014

Sundance Institute Documentary Fund

Not a big surprise that the Sundance Institute supports films that then premiere at Sundance. It's not a given that if you are a Fund recipient you will premiere at Sundance, since many don't, but on top of funds, you get mentorship and prestige. From Sundance Institute:

With submission deadlines in February and July each year, and other special invitation only opportunities, the Fund reviews 1,700-2,000 proposals annually, and grants about 45-55 projects from filmmakers around the world.

Films in Competition at Sundance: The Overnighters, Cesar's Last Fast, Marmato, Rich Hill, Watchers of the Sky, E-Team, Private Violence

Macarthur Foundation

One of the big daddies of grantmakers -- I have humored the narrow margins of eligibility for a MacFound grant before. If you can get one, it can be in the $200,000 range! Worth it. From MacFound:

MacArthur supports the production of social-issue documentary films on important contemporary topics, intended for a broad audience, particularly in the U.S....In each round, the Foundation is able to support just 8-12 projects, from the 300-400 proposals submitted.

Films in Competition at Sundance: Marmato, Watchers of the Sky, Rich Hill


One of the few granting organizations that focuses on innovative storytelling, Cinereach funds all kinds of projects (doc and narrative) and is the best hope for many a non-social-justice-specific doc. From Cinereach:

Cinereach supports feature-length nonfiction and fiction films that are at the intersection of engaging storytelling, visual artistry, and vital subject matter. Grant amounts can range from $5,000 – $50,000 per project and can be awarded to support any stage of production, including development, production and post-production.

Films in Competition at Sundance: E-team, Marmato, Watchers of the Sky

Chicken & Egg Pictures

A very well-connected granting agency that focuses on female filmmakers making social issue docs, Chicken & Egg provides funds as well as  support and networking within the film industry. From Chicken & Egg:

Chicken & Egg Pictures is dedicated to supporting women nonfiction filmmakers...We match strategic financial support with creative mentorship offered at critical junctures of a filmmaker's life and work, with $3.2 million in grants and 4,500 hours in mentorship given since 2005.

Films in Competition at Sundance: Private violence, Watchers of the Sky, more in World Competition


Tribeca Film Institute

The Tribeca Film Institute has a few doc grants, from the TFI Doc Fund which focuses on character driven stories to the Gucci Tribeca Doc Fund that supports social issue films (the latter being the represented grant at Sundance). And of course, if you don't get in to Sundance, you just might play Tribeca! From TFI:

Provides finishing funds to feature-length documentaries which highlight and humanize issues of social importance from around the world. For films, based anywhere, that are in production or post-production with the intended premiere exhibition. Grants range from $10,000 to $25,000.

Films in Competition at Sundance: E-team

Fledgling Fund

The Fledgling Fund gives support to social issue films that have a specific idea in mind of how to change the world with their film, and helps put those plans into motion. From Fledgling:

Most of these grants support outreach and audience engagement for social issue documentaries and range from smaller planning grants to implementation grants for projects that have a clear plan ready to launch. They typically range from $5K to $30K and are considered in our Spring and Fall funding cycles. Upcoming deadline for initial letter of inquiry is February 7th, 2014.

Films in Competition at Sundance: Fed Up, Private Violence

Catapult Film Fund

Like the name alludes, the Catapult Film Fund comes in to help you at the early stages of your film -- when all you have is an idea -- so that you can get the support to make a short fundraising piece to launch the project.

Catapult Film Fund provides development funding to documentary filmmakers...At each round Catapult awards grants of up to $20,000 and grants a total of about $100,000 per cycle. Application deadline is January 31, 2014.

Films in Competition at Sundance: E-team, The Overnighters


CAL Humanities Documentary Project

Focused on docs that have some California aspect to them, CalHum is one of the bigger state-specific granting organizations, and unlike many other granting agencies, often specializes on the humanities and history.

Projects must use the humanities to provide context, depth, and perspective and be suitable for California and national audiences through broadcast and/or distribution. Since 2003, we have awarded over $3.5 million to projects that document the California experience and explore issues of significance to Californians.

Films in Competition at Sundance: The Case Against 8

Impact Partners

Impact Partners isn't a granting agency per say, as their model for selected filmmakers is to help them raise the money for their projects by setting them up with donors or investors. Clever! From Impact:

We provide the resources to get films made, the mentorship to make films the best they can be, and the strategic support to achieve the widest possible audience for each film.

Films in Competition at Sundance: The Overnighters


Money DSLRWhat does this list mean? Well, the above granting agencies choose really good work. But even for good work, getting funds from one of these grants is extremely difficult, at best. Some films who fit may wind up multiple grantees, lucky dogs!

If you don't have a film that's likely to get big grants, what can you do -- buy some Scratchers at the Circle K? Instead, you'll want to find support from established producers that might take an interest in your work, or smaller, local, or more specific (non-film) organizations that might support you with grants. Of the seven films not mentioned above, three (Ivory Tower, Dinosaur 13, Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart) have established, excellent producers or broadcasters behind them like CNN and HBO, two (All the Beautiful Things, The Internet's Own Boy) are from an established or returning Sundance director, and two more on the underdog end (Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory, No No: A Dockumentary) were supported by grants from more local organizations (Derek Freese Documentary Fund in PA, the Austin Film Society Grant in TX).

Which route would your next film take? What are your chances for a grant? And do you think you would consider adding a grant writer to your team?

[Dollar bill image from Flickr member 401(K) 2012]

Link: Sundance Institute Announces Films in U.S. and World Competitions --