In 1981, the actor Robert Redford gathered a group of his friends and colleagues in the Utah mountains to think through ways of encouraging high-quality independent filmmaking in the U.S. Later that spring, ten younger filmmakers were invited to the first Filmmakers/Directors Lab sponsored by a new nonprofit calling itself the Sundance Institute. In the remote natural setting, the participants were given opportunities to develop original film projects with guidance from experienced writers and directors, while getting advanced training in practical areas like editing and storytelling.
Since that time, Sundance’s Feature Film Program has supported more than 300 additional feature films, and 500 films have been supported by the institute’s Documentary Film Program. In 1984 a Theatre Program was added, which has since supported the development of more than 200 plays. The institute also took over a pre-existing film festival staged in Park City, Utah, and turned the January event into the nation’s most important festival for presenting independent movies. Festival features have included productions like Reservoir Dogs, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, American Splendor, An Inconvenient Truth, Little Miss Sunshine, and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Many significant filmmakers, like Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino, received their first prominence at Sundance.
All of this is heavily supported by philanthropy. Contributions to the institute totaled $20 million in 2014. Ticket and fee income, meanwhile, came to under $15 million. Donors thus carry most of the group’s expense load. They range from small individual contributors to foundations like Annenberg, Ford, and Gates.
- Sundance Institute, History, sundance.org/about/us