Looking to Self-Distribute Your Film? Sundance Wants to Lend a Hand

"First Girl I Loved"
Sundance opens its Creative Distribution Fellowship to films beyond those that have played at the festival and reveals data on past releases.

Two of the films that we really enjoyed at Sundance 2017— Jennifer Brea's Unrest and Koganada’s Columbus—are both now out in the world, garnering critical praise and, most importantly, audiences. This result is not a given for niche debut features by relatively unknown directors, but in both cases it was facilitated in part by the films’ selections for the inaugural round of the Sundance Creative Distribution Fellowship.

Initiated last year, the fellowship builds on the successes of Sundance’s formerly named Artist Services wing, which helped usher more than 200 independent films into the market. Now, the fellowship formalizes all of that experience into a whole package that gives unprecedented control to the filmmakers involved.

What is the Creative Distribution Fellowship?

According to the website, the Creative Distribution Fellowship “is an immersive, rigorous program for entrepreneurial producers and directors seeking new ways to build and reach audiences with their finished work.” Four films will be selected for participation on a rolling basis (doubling the number of selections from the program’s first year), and these projects will be supported during their initial release period of 6-12 months.

The benefits of this pretty incredible opportunity include a $25,000 grant for marketing expenses and a mid-five-figure minimum deal from either Amazon, Hulu or Netflix, as well as preferred access to other Sundance Institute brokered digital distribution opportunities through its relationship with Quiver Digital. You will also get access to mentors and consultants, and other perks of membership in the Sundance alumni network.

Koganada's 'Columbus'
Koganada's 'Columbus'

Is your film eligible?

This year, the fellowship is expanding eligibility to films beyond those that have played at Sundance, though the project must have screened at a 2017 US film festival or been accepted to a 2018 US film festival that has been running for more than five years. Currently, the program is only open to completed features with a minimum 70-minute duration that have team lead(s) based in the United States or Canada. For a full list of eligibility and participation requirements, see the application.

Does it work?

As mentioned above, Sundance has been supporting features in their self-distribution efforts less formally for several years, and the positive results are beginning to show. Part of the mission of the initiative is to create process and results transparency and, as such, it has just released a detailed case study for the distribution of First Girl I Loved, which premiered at Sundance 2016 (Putnam wrote about his self-distro process early on here). This film’s release and success led to the formation of Sundance’s support program as an official fellowship.

The case study pierces the distribution veil, letting us in on the film’s rollout strategy, spending, profits, and user data. The bottom line? At the date of publication, First Girl I Loved is approaching revenue of three times more than their best offer for traditional distribution.

There’s no question that self-distribution requires more legwork than traditional does, but your earning potential and control over the process is potentially much higher, and with the help of programs like the Creative Distribution Fellowship and more transparency on performance analytics from companies like The Orchard, this might just be the right path for your film.

Apply for the Sundance Creative Distribution Fellowship here.     

Featured image from Kerem Sanga's 'First Girl I Loved'.

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Your Comment


I love how the film industry is just like a country club and film festivals are the ticket into the club. That's awesome. Outsiders need not apply for this opportunity b/c obviously if your film doesn't play at a worthy film festival, then you are not worthy of their consideration.

October 4, 2017 at 5:11PM

Ekim Namwen

Actually.. Hi! I'm Liz. I Manage the fellowship. I'm a feature filmmaker whose work didn't get into the top tier festivals.
We're SPECIFICALLY trying to be inclusive to all festivals and filmmakers of a lower budget. Currently I'm only looking at 12 submitted applications - which means... you've got a fair shake here.
Finally --- we only ask for a recent festival premiere. We do not specify the festival and the application is free.


October 10, 2017 at 11:54AM


Firstly, I'll start with the fact that I watched the film presented at the Sundance 2017. The shooting was very high-quality and professional, but the film did not catch my attention at all. Some passages, perhaps. Secondly, I strongly question this whole idea with a fellowship and support. More precisely, I have questions. I will explain my point of view on my own experience. My best friend is studying at the college, but also dreams of becoming a filmmaker. It's not just a dream. She's going to this goal. And right now she needs help with academic writing. Since she is working on the best project for her college. Short film. If this film is successful, can it qualify for such a creative distribution fellowship?? If so, what should she provide?

October 27, 2017 at 5:55AM, Edited October 27, 5:56AM

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December 12, 2017 at 4:51AM


February 24, 2018 at 11:57AM