A Sundance Film Festival award lags only behind an Oscar nomination as a measure of success for documentarians.
But what are the odds that a U.S. or international documentary will earn a slot on the program?
- 2,649 Documentary Features were submitted to the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, which opens on January 24:
- 767 were from the U.S.
- 1,882 were international submissions.
- Sundance selected 49 feature documentaries.
- The success rate is 1.8%
- That’s down from 2.9% in 2018.
- US: 31 selections / 4.0% acceptance rate.
- International: 18 selections / 1.0% success rate.
Prior Funding by Sundance
16 of the 49 selections (33%) had received prior funding from the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program:
U.S. Documentary Competition
Where’s My Roy Cohn?
One Child Nation
Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
World Cinema Documentary Competition
The Magic Life of V
The Edge of Democracy
Birds of Passage
NEXT: The Infiltrators (Docudrama)
- Sundance’s inside track for talent development multiplies your odds of acceptance, but not of winning a prize, as I posted in 2018.
- The Sundance selection bar is higher for international projects than U.S. ones.
- Congrats to the 49 acceptances for overcoming these huge odds and winning acceptance through their talents and timeliness.
- However, few Sundance-recognized documentaries go on to a successful theatrical run.
- There’s always IDFA, TIFF, Berlin, Hot Docs, SXSW and other prestigious international and regional festivals.
- And licensing and distribution deals across the multiple platforms that are available today.
- The odds are only slightly higher for Narrative / Scripted Features.
- 75 of 2,266 submitted projects were selected.
- That’s an acceptance rate of only 3.3%
Winners & Competitors at Sundance
- You can study the full Sundance documentary program for 2019 with links here…
- Here are the 2019 Documentary Premieres.
- Many thanks to the Sundance Press Office for sharing the data.
The Netflix / Sundance Anti-Case Study
- Don’t miss The Cleaners, our Anti-Case Study from Sunny Side of the Doc.
- We covered the dashed hopes of Berlin-based Gebrueder Beetz to win a Netflix deal after defying the odds and winning a slot at Sundance 2018.
PBS Documentary Slots: Similar Odds
- When I last checked, POV accepted 16 films out of around 1,000 submissions.
- The acceptance rate was 1.6%
- Read more about POV in our detailed 2015 coverage.
- Independent Lens accepted around 22 films out of 725+/- submissions.
- That’s a 3% acceptance rate.
- Read about ITVS and Independent Lens in our 2015 coverage here.
- I hope to update these PBS #’s.
Note: Sundance acceptance data as of January 11, 2019. May be subject to correction.
- I’ve always been grateful to the Sundance Institute and Independent Film Project for engaging David Rosen and myself undertake a ground-breaking study of the emerging independent film economy.
- The study was published by Grove Press as OFF HOLLYWOOD: THE MAKING AND MARKETING OF INDEPENDENT FILMS.
- Though completed in the mid-Eighties, our detailed case study-based Findings are still remarkably useful. The methodology became a model for the Case Studies published in this newsletter.