Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Sundance Film Festival Selections 2018: What are the Odds for Documentaries?

The most coveted road to a Netflix deal lies through acceptance at Sundance.

But what are the odds that U.S. and international documentaries will earn a slot on the program?


  • 1,635 Documentary Features were submitted to the 2018 Sundance Film Festival:
  • 740 were from the U.S.
  • 895 were international.


  • Sundance selected 47 for screening.
  • The success rate for feature docs was 2.9%.


  • U.S.: 37 selections / 4.9% acceptance rate.
  • International: 10 selections / 1.1% success rate.

Prior Funding by Sundance 

Of the 47 selections, 13 (28%) had received prior funding from the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program:

  • Of Fathers & Sons
  • Shirkers
  • Inventing Tomorrow
  • Crime + Punishment
  • Minding the Gap
  • Three Identical Strangers
  • Hale Country This Morning, This Evening
  • Bisbee ‘17
  • Generation Wealth
  • 306 Hollywood
  • Awavena


  • Getting your documentary on the Sundance inside track multiplies your odds of acceptance, but not of winning a prize.
  • The Sundance selection bar is much higher for international projects than U.S. ones.
  • There’s always IDFA, TIFF, Berlin and more.

The Cost of Missing Out

  • Let’s assume that the average production cost of all 1,635 Sundance submissions is in the range of $500,000 – $750,000.
  • The total production expense of the 1,588 “Not Accepted” documentaries would be $794 million to $1.19 billion!

Narrative Features

  • The odds are only slightly higher for Narrative 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 documentary program for 2018 with links here…

PBS: Similar Odds for Acceptance

  • When I last checked, the signature PBS documentary slot POV 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.
  • PBS’s Independent Lens slot reported around 22 films accepted for broadcast out of 725+/- submissions, or a 3% acceptance rate.
  • Read about ITVS and Independent Lens in our 2015 coverage here.
  • I’ll update these #’s soon.


Original analysis and coverage from
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