Why Did Sundance Just Receive a $5 Million Windfall From Open Society?

Christopher Stone, president of the George Soros backed Open Society Foundations, just announced that they would be granting the Sundance Institute a $5 million matching grant for their Documentary Film Program. Why so much and why now?

What is now the Sundance Institute's Documentary Film Program was in fact launched by the Open Society Foundations in 1996 and at the time, was referred to as the Soros Documentary Fund. Eventually, the Soros Documentary Fund was integrated into Sundance's programs in 2002. The Sundance Program now offers a number of different grant opportunities for documentary filmmakers, including the Documentary Fund, which provides grants between $20,000 and $50,000 for anywhere from 45 to 55 projects annually (between $1 to $2 million a year) in support of U.S. and international contemporary independent documentary films. It also offers documentary labs, various creative partnerships, and "special opportunity funds," among other things.

As Stone explained at the time of the announcement, "The Open Society Foundations have long been one of the world’s leading supporters of those defending and promoting human rights. We believe that film can intensify conversations on rights, justice, and social ills."

This sentiment was echoed by the Sundance Institute's Exectutive Director, Kari Putnam, "As the landscape of non-fiction storytelling continues to evolve, independent documentary filmmakers are increasingly exploring new forms and formats. With the support of Open Society Foundations, Sundance Institute will continue to seek out and support inventive artists whose work pushes the boundaries of non-fiction story telling and whose stories redefine existing notions of human rights."

As to the question of why $5 million and why now, no one had much to say to shed light on that, however the Open Society Foundations did give Sundance the exact same amount in matching funds in 2009 with the idea that Sundance would raise the second $5 million within five years. It could be that this will be a regular cash infusion Sundance could see every five year cycle from Open Society since they've long had a symbiotic relationship ever since Sundance took over the program.

What's clear is that the Sundance Documentary Film Program shows no signs of slowing down. They recently also announced the winners of their Candescent Award, an award given each year in partnership with Candescent Films for outstanding socially conscious documentaries. All three winners have received previous support through Sundance's Documentary Program and will premiere in competition at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

For more information on Sundance's film and journalism programs check out our profiles in the GrantFinder section here and here.