5

Sundance Institute

Nonprofit organization dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and audiences.
Sundance Institute
Leadership team

Keri Putnam  (Chief Executive Officer (CEO) )

Anne Lai (Executive Director )

Michelle Satter ( Founding Director, Feature Film Program)

Philip Himberg (Artistic Director, Theatre Program)

Peter Golub (Vice President, Film Music)

Headquarters
Park City, Utah, United States
Region served
Worldwide
Year stablished
1981
Address
700 Park Ave, Park City, UT
Social Media
Summary

The Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization founded by Robert Redford in 1981 with a clear mission: to support independent artists and foster the growth of independent storytelling. With a range of programs and initiatives, the institute provides a platform for artists at different stages of their careers to develop their craft and showcase their work to a broader audience. Its impact on the world of film, theatre, music, and new media has been profound.

At the heart of the Sundance Institute's goals and purposes is the renowned Sundance Film Festival. Held annually in Park City, Utah, the festival serves as a premier showcase for independent films from around the world. It has become a launchpad for many acclaimed filmmakers and has played a significant role in introducing groundbreaking films to audiences. The festival attracts industry insiders, film enthusiasts, and the media, creating an environment for networking, collaboration, and discovery.

The institute's commitment to supporting artists goes beyond the festival. It operates various year-round programs and labs designed to provide resources, mentorship, and a collaborative environment for artists to refine their ideas and connect with industry professionals. These programs cover a wide range of disciplines, including screenwriting, directing, producing, and composing. Through these initiatives, the Sundance Institute empowers artists to push boundaries, take risks, and bring their creative visions to life.

In addition to its focus on film, the Sundance Institute has expanded its reach to support artists in other creative fields. The Sundance Theatre Program, for example, provides opportunities for playwrights, directors, and actors to develop new works and explore innovative approaches to storytelling on stage. The institute also supports musicians and composers through programs such as the Sundance Film Music Program, fostering collaborations between filmmakers and composers. By embracing diverse artistic forms, the Sundance Institute contributes to the vibrancy and evolution of the independent arts landscape.


History

The Sundance Institute is a distinguished non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing the growth and development of independent artists across various disciplines. Founded by acclaimed actor and filmmaker Robert Redford in 1981, the institute has played a pivotal role in supporting independent filmmakers, theatre artists, and composers from around the world. With its offices located in Park City, Los Angeles, and New York City, the Sundance Institute provides both creative and financial assistance to emerging talents through a wide range of programs and initiatives.

The institute's founding staff, comprised of Executive Director Sterling Van Wagenen, Director of film development programs Jenny Walz Selby, director of Development Jon Lear, and artistic director Frank Daniel, laid the groundwork for the organization. In June 1981, they successfully organized the first Filmmakers Lab, a groundbreaking event that coincided with the Academy Awards, where Redford's directorial debut film, "Ordinary People," received critical acclaim and numerous accolades, including Best Picture. Joining the team in June 1981 was Michelle Satter, who later established the Los Angeles office of the institute.

The Sundance Institute's founding Board of trustees included notable figures such as Robert Redford, Sterling VanWagenen, Irving Azoff, Saul Bass, Sydney Pollack, Karl Malden, and Mary McFadden, among others. These visionary individuals provided invaluable guidance and support in shaping the institute's mission and direction. In 2010, Keri Putnam assumed the role of Executive Director, bringing her expertise and leadership to the organization.

In 1985, the Sundance Institute took on the management of the struggling United States Film Festival, which faced financial difficulties at the time. Tony Safford, previously from the AFI Kennedy Center program, was hired as the managing director, and the festival was subsequently renamed. This marked a significant milestone for the institute, as it expanded its reach and impact within the independent film community.

Throughout its history, the Sundance Institute has continuously evolved, introducing new programs and initiatives to cater to the needs of emerging artists. In the 1980s, it established the Feature Film Program and Film Music Program, followed by the Native American and Indigenous Film Program in 1994, the Theatre Program in 1997, and the Documentary Film Program in 2002. The institute's commitment to innovation led to the launch of the New Frontier program in 2007, which embraced transmedia storytelling, multimedia installations, and virtual reality experiences. It also introduced the Creative Producing Initiative in 2008, the Episodic Storytelling Initiative in 2014, and Sundance Ignite, a program for young filmmakers, in 2015. In 2017, the institute expanded its Creative Producing Initiative to include the Creative Distribution Initiative, offering filmmakers guidance on distribution and marketing strategies.

The Sundance Film Festival, a highly esteemed event that showcases independent films and promotes independent filmmakers and storytellers, remains one of the institute's most acclaimed programs. Since assuming management of the festival in 1985, the Sundance Institute has witnessed substantial growth in its scope and impact. From its modest beginnings with 85 films shown at two theatres in Park City, the festival has now expanded to feature 181 films screened at nine theatres, attracting over 71,600 attendees.

In addition to the Film Festival, the institute's various programs provide vital support to artists in different disciplines. The Feature Film Program offers filmmakers the opportunity to develop their screenplays and receive mentorship from industry professionals during the Directors Lab in Sundance, Utah. The Film Music Program hosts the Composers Lab, where emerging composers collaborate with renowned industry figures to enhance the role of music in independent films. The Native American and Indigenous Film Program promotes the participation of Native and Indigenous artists in the film industry by providing grants, fellowships, and creative support. The Theatre Program assists playwrights through labs, workshops, and residencies, fostering the creation and refinement of innovative theatrical works. The Documentary Film Program supports nonfiction filmmakers through grants, workshops, and year-round mentorship. The New Frontier program explores the intersection of art, technology, and storytelling through immersive installations and experiences. The Creative Producing Initiative and the Episodic Storytelling Initiative provide emerging producers and writers with invaluable guidance and opportunities for collaboration. Sundance Ignite empowers young filmmakers through mentorship, short film challenges, and a year-round festival experience. The Creative Distribution Initiative offers resources and workshops to help filmmakers navigate the distribution and marketing landscape.

The Sundance Institute has had a lasting impact on the independent arts community. Its commitment to nurturing and promoting independent voices has resulted in the discovery and recognition of numerous talented artists. Many films, plays, and compositions that received support from the institute have gone on to achieve critical acclaim and widespread success in the industry.

Today, the Sundance Institute remains at the forefront of supporting independent artists, fostering creativity, and promoting diverse storytelling. With its rich history and unwavering dedication to artistic excellence, the institute continues to be a driving force in shaping the future of independent cinema, theatre, and music.


Goals and Purpose

The Sundance Institute is driven by a set of clear goals and purposes that guide its work in supporting and promoting independent artists and storytelling. These goals and purposes are fundamental to the institute's mission and shape its programs, initiatives, and overall approach. The key goals and purposes of the Sundance Institute include:

  • Fostering Creative Freedom: The institute aims to create an environment where artists have the freedom to explore and experiment with their craft without the constraints often imposed by commercial pressures. By providing a supportive space, the institute encourages risk-taking, innovation, and the development of unique artistic voices.
  • Nurturing Independent Artists: A central objective of the Sundance Institute is to identify, support, and nurture emerging and established independent artists across various disciplines, including film, theatre, music, and new media. The institute aims to empower artists by providing them with resources, mentorship, and platforms to develop their creative projects and advance their careers.
  • Promoting Diversity and Inclusion: The Sundance Institute is committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of its work. It actively seeks out and supports artists from underrepresented communities, including women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ individuals, and artists from marginalized backgrounds. By amplifying diverse voices and stories, the institute aims to contribute to a more inclusive and representative entertainment industry.
  • Navigating the Creative Process: The institute recognizes the challenges artists face throughout the creative process and endeavours to support them at every stage of their artistic journey. Whether through its labs, workshops, or mentorship programs, the institute provides a structured framework for artists to refine their ideas, receive feedback, and develop their projects with guidance from industry professionals and peers.
  • Providing Platforms for Exhibition: The Sundance Institute offers artists the opportunity to showcase their work and reach audiences through various platforms, with the Sundance Film Festival being its flagship event. By providing a prestigious and internationally recognized platform, the institute aims to elevate independent films, performances, and projects, connecting artists with industry professionals, distributors, and wider audiences.
  • Building Collaborative Networks: The institute seeks to foster a collaborative and interconnected community of artists, industry professionals, and supporters of independent arts. It aims to facilitate connections, partnerships, and knowledge sharing among artists, allowing for cross-disciplinary collaboration and the exchange of ideas that enriches the creative process and expands artistic possibilities.
  • Impacting Society and Culture: The Sundance Institute recognizes the power of storytelling to inspire change and shape societal perspectives. It encourages artists to explore socially relevant themes, raise awareness about pressing issues, and engage audiences in meaningful conversations. By supporting projects that challenge conventions and provoke thought, the institute aims to have a broader impact on culture, fostering empathy, understanding, and social change.

Impact

The Sundance Institute has had a profound and far-reaching impact on the world of independent arts and storytelling. Through its diverse programs, mentorship initiatives, and the renowned Sundance Film Festival, the institute has played a pivotal role in shaping the careers of countless filmmakers, theatre artists, composers, and storytellers from around the globe. The impact of the Sundance Institute can be seen in several key areas:

  • Nurturing Independent Filmmakers: The institute's support has been instrumental in nurturing independent filmmakers and providing them with the resources, mentorship, and platform needed to bring their visions to life. Many acclaimed directors, such as Quentin Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky, Ava DuVernay, and the Coen brothers, had their early works showcased at the Sundance Film Festival, launching their careers and establishing them as influential voices in the industry.
  • Advancing Diversity and Inclusion: The Sundance Institute has been a trailblazer in promoting diversity and inclusion within the entertainment industry. It has actively sought out and supported underrepresented voices, including women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ artists, and filmmakers from marginalized communities. Through programs like the Native American and Indigenous Film Program, the institute has provided platforms for indigenous filmmakers to share their stories and perspectives.
  • Fostering Independent Voices: By providing a nurturing environment and creative freedom, the institute has empowered artists to explore innovative storytelling techniques and tackle socially relevant themes. The Sundance Institute has been at the forefront of supporting groundbreaking documentaries that address pressing social issues, leading to increased awareness and dialogue on topics ranging from environmental concerns to human rights.
  • Launching Independent Films into the Mainstream: Many independent films that have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival have gone on to achieve critical acclaim and commercial success. The institute's platform and recognition have helped elevate these films, making them accessible to wider audiences and attracting distribution deals from major studios. This has not only increased the visibility of independent cinema but also demonstrated the commercial viability of unconventional storytelling.
  • Supporting Collaborative Networks: The Sundance Institute has fostered a vibrant community of artists and industry professionals, facilitating collaborations and networking opportunities. Through its labs, workshops, and fellowships, the institute brings together emerging and established talents, encouraging cross-disciplinary exchange and fostering creative partnerships that often transcend the duration of the programs.
  • Influencing the Film Industry: The Sundance Institute's advocacy for independent cinema and its commitment to artistic integrity has had a lasting impact on the film industry as a whole. Its success in nurturing independent filmmakers and championing unique voices has challenged the traditional studio system, pushing for a more diverse and inclusive representation in mainstream media.

References
Sundance Institute
Leadership team

Keri Putnam  (Chief Executive Officer (CEO) )

Anne Lai (Executive Director )

Michelle Satter ( Founding Director, Feature Film Program)

Philip Himberg (Artistic Director, Theatre Program)

Peter Golub (Vice President, Film Music)

Headquarters
Park City, Utah, United States
Region served
Worldwide
Year stablished
1981
Address
700 Park Ave, Park City, UT
Social Media