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?
- 1,774 Documentary Features were submitted to the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, which opens on January 23:
- 840 were from the U.S.
- 934 were international films.
- Sundance selected 49 feature documentaries.
- The success rate is 2.8%
- That’s up from 1.8% in 2019.
- US: 35 selections / 4.2% acceptance rate.
- International: 14 selections / 1.5% success rate.
Prior Funding by Sundance
- 24% of the 49 selections were projects with Sundance support through labs or grants,
- That’s comparable to 33% in 2019.
- Crip Camp / U.S. (Directors: Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht)
- Welcome to Chechnya / U.S. (Director: David France)
- Bloody, Nose, Empty Pockets / U.S. (Directors: Bill Ross, Turner Ross)
- Coded Bias / U.S. (Director: Shalini Kantayya)
- Us Kids / U.S. (Director: Kim A. Snyder)
- The Fight / U.S. (Directors: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres)
- A Thousand Cuts / U.S. (Director: Ramona S. Diaz)
- Time / U.S. (Director: Garrett Bradley)
- Softie / Kenya (Director: Sam Soko)
- The Truffle Hunt / U.S. (Directors: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw)
- The Mole Agent / Chile (Director: Maite Albedo)
- A Social Dilemma / U.S. (Director: Jeff Orlowski)
Concordia Studio Beats the Odds
- One production company won an astounding four slots at Sundance
- Laurene Powell Jobs is the ultimate A-Lister who backs Concordia Studio
- Concordia was founded by Oscar-winner Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth)
- Read more in The New York Times: A New Force at Sundance Dominates Documentaries
- (Disclosure: I have enjoyed consulting with Concordia).
- 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 a slot 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.
- 79 of 2,079 submitted projects were selected.
- That’s an acceptance rate of only 3.8%
Winners & Competitors at Sundance
- You can study the full Sundance documentary program for 2020 with links here
- Here are the 2020 Documentary Premieres.
- Many thanks to the Sundance Press Office for sharing the data.
More reading: The Sundance Anti-Case Study
- Don’t miss The Cleaners, our Anti-Case Study featured at 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 here.
- I hope to update these PBS strand #’s.
Note: Sundance acceptance data as of January 11, 2020. 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.