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Sundance Film Festival 2017: What Are The Odds for Documentaries?

2017 January 6
by Peter Hamilton

The Sundance Film Festival will screen 45 feature-length documentaries.

A total of 1,701 feature documentaries were submitted.

  • 823 were from the U.S.
  • 878 were international.

The success rate for feature docs in 2017 was 2.6%!

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Sundance Funding:

  • Of the 45 selections, 12 had received prior funding from the Sundance Institute.
  • Takeaway: If your documentary is not on the Sundance inside track, your odds of acceptance were 1 in 50.
  • The upside: There’s always Tribeca, IDFA, TIFF, Sheffield, Berlin and more.
  • Read about the Sundance Documentary Program here.

In Competition at Sundance

You can study the full documentary program with links here…

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And Then Comes Distribution…

After Sundance selection and buzz, the next needle to be threaded by documentary producers is distribution:

  • How many of the 45 Sundance documentary selections will win a respectable theatrical distribution deal?
  • Or a television or SVOD deal?
  • How many of these films will receive a proper theatrical launch?
  • How many will pay for distribution in cinemas, drawing on Outreach funding provided by their backers?
  • And how many of those lucky winners will go on to recoup their investment in production and marketing?

BBQ’ing with Robert Redford

  • I attended one of the earliest Sundance Film Festivals when I was co-authoring a Case Study analysis of independent film marketing and distribution.
  • David Rosen led our ground-breaking Study: it was funded by the Sundance Institute and the Independent Feature Project and published by Grove Press.
  • I chatted with Mr Redford at a BBQ at his home, and I can remember that I was startled by his huge forearms. He had played pro baseball. (Years later, I was honored to meet my tennis hero Rod ‘Rocket’ Laver. His forearms were even bigger.)
  • The Sundance Festival was then in its infancy. It was almost a Redford family project. There was an attractive naivete about it all. ‘Independent film’ was an emerging social movement that captured some of the creative energy left over from the anti-Vietnam War and counter-cultural tides of the Sixties and Seventies. ‘Indie’ was a quality that was waiting to be defined and branded.
  • Who then could have imagined the frantic business that Sundance has become today?

PBS: Odds for Acceptance

  • The signature PBS documentary slot POV recently accepted 16 films out of around 1,000 submissions, for an acceptance rate of 1.6%
  • Read more about POV in our detailed October 2015 coverage.

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Inauguration Special

  • Regrettably, Gregory Crofton’s ‘theatrical feature’ Case Study of ‘2016 Obama’s America‘ is relevant on many fronts this Inauguration month.
  • That rightwing ‘bio-doc’ grossed $40+/- million, and its producer David Bossie is a player in Donald Trump’s inner circle.

Additional Research: Gregory Crofton

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