Sundance Institute: Grants for Film

OVERVIEW:  Sundance's grants are modest, but they are among the most prestigious. It has a multitude of fellowships, grants, and awards that support filmmakers of all types at different stages in their careers. Sundance also supports both narrative and documentary projects at various stages of production.

IP TAKE:  While some of Sundance's fellowships are open to the public, there are many more funding opportunities available only to alumni of its screenwriting, producing, and directing labs (the latter of which is only available to projects coming out of the screenwriting lab). Getting into one of these labs is key to securing further funding. Many of Sundance's open fellowships do provide avenues into these labs.

PROFILE: Created in 1981, the Sundance Institute was founded by Robert Redford “to foster independence, risk-taking, and new voices in American film.” It seeks to “discover, support, and inspire independent film and theatre artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work.” Sundance prioritizes documentary and feature projects; however, it also supports film music, episodic storytelling, and new media.

Documentary Fund: Sundance funds documentaries through the Documentary Fund. Grants are accepted on a rolling basis for development (up to $20,000), production/post-production (up to $50,000), and audience engagement ($20,000).

Feature Film Program: The Feature Film Program supports independent filmmakers in various ways. Several of the opportunities it offers are open to applications, but there are also many others (not listed here) available only to alumni of Sundance labs. In particular, the Screenwriters Lab is an entry point for the Directors Lab (which is by invitation only), and thus can provide access to many future sources of funding and other support.

  • Screenwriters Lab - This lab is a five-day workshop for independent screenwriters to develop feature length projects.

  • Creative Producing Lab & Fellowship - This is a year-long program for emerging producers who have a completed, optioned, scripted, narrative project with a director attached. The producer may not be the writer or director of this project. Fellows receive $10,000 in grant support, as well as mentoring and other support from Sundance staff.

  • FilmTwo Initiative and Fellowship - This fellowship supports filmmakers working on their second narrative film project, either writer/directors or writers collaborating closely with a director. Women and applicants from underrepresented communities will be given priority. This fellowship includes participation in a screenwriting workshop in Los Angeles, support from Sundance staff, and eligibility for various labs run by the Institute.

  • Alfred P. Sloan Commissioning Grant & Fellowship – In partnership with the Sloan Foundation, these grants and fellowships support the development of screenplays with science or technology themes (but not science fiction). Only completed screenplays will be considered for the fellowship.

  • Sundance Institute/Asian American Feature Film Fellowship - This fellowship supports an Asian-American writer or writer/director working on his or her first or second narrative feature film through participation in a screenwriting or producing lab.

  • Sundance Institute Feature Film Program Latino Fellowship - This fellowship supports a US-based Latino writer or writer/director working on his or her first or second narrative feature film through participation in a screenwriting lab. There is also a small, unrestricted cash grant.

Film Music Program: The Film Music Program offers labs for music and sound design for feature films and documentaries. These labs are primarily intended for composers, both those working directly for film and those whose compositions are suitable for film scoring.

Native American and Indigenous Film Program: This program offers a lab and two grants for Native American filmmakers:

  • Native Filmmaker Lab - This lab supports first time filmmakers in the shooting of a short film, through the assistance of an experienced producer and director.

  • Full Circle Fellowship - This fellowship gives Native Americans from Michigan and New Mexico aged 18-24 the opportunity to explore careers in film. It includes attendance of the Sundance Film Festival, an internship in the Native Filmmaker Lab, and a trip to Los Angeles to visit film studios and production facilities.

  • Time Warner Native Producing Fellowship - This fellowship emerging Native American producers through attendance of the Sundance Film Festival and of a Creative Producing Summit, travel to an international film market, and a grant for project support.

Episodic Storytelling: This Sundance runs two labs for what it calls episodic storytelling, focused on writers developing work for television and online platforms. Details are provided below:

  • Episodic Story Lab - This lab supports first time writers in a variety of media, including features, documentaries, theater, and fiction, who are developing an episodic series. Applicants must have a completed pilot script and an overview of the development of the series, and they cannot have pitched to a studio or sold a pilot that has been produced. Writers from communities that have been underrepresented in the television industry are given priority.

  • Sundance Institute | YouTube New Voices Lab - This lab supports writers working on new episodic story projects through mentorship and workshopping with experienced creators, showrunners, and producers.

New Frontier: This initiative supports the development of narrative storytelling in emergent media, including film, gaming, theater, comic books, design, and web native art. It includes the New Frontier Story Lab, which supports artists developing stories using new media and technologies. Alumni of this lab become eligible for the New Frontier Artist Residency Program. It also supports Day Labs at various venues across the country.


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