Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Sundance Film Festival 2017: What Are The Odds for Documentaries?

The Sundance Film Festival will screen 45 feature-length documentaries.

A total of 1,701 feature documentaries were submitted.

  • 823 were from the U.S.
  • 878 were international.

The success rate for feature docs in 2017 was 2.6%!


Sundance Funding:

  • Of the 45 selections, 12 had received prior funding from the Sundance Institute.
  • Takeaway: If your documentary is not on the Sundance inside track, your odds of acceptance were 1 in 50.
  • The upside: There’s always Tribeca, IDFA, TIFF, Sheffield, Berlin and more.
  • Read about the Sundance Documentary Program here.

In Competition at Sundance

You can study the full documentary program with links here…


And Then Comes Distribution…

After Sundance selection and buzz, the next needle to be threaded by documentary producers is distribution:

  • How many of the 45 Sundance documentary selections will win a respectable theatrical distribution deal?
  • Or a television or SVOD deal?
  • How many of these films will receive a proper theatrical launch?
  • How many will pay for distribution in cinemas, drawing on Outreach funding provided by their backers?
  • And how many of those lucky winners will go on to recoup their investment in production and marketing?

BBQ’ing with Robert Redford

  • I attended one of the earliest Sundance Film Festivals when I was co-authoring a Case Study analysis of independent film marketing and distribution.
  • David Rosen led our ground-breaking Study: it was funded by the Sundance Institute and the Independent Feature Project and published by Grove Press.
  • I chatted with Mr Redford at a BBQ at his home, and I can remember that I was startled by his huge forearms. He had played pro baseball. (Years later, I was honored to meet my tennis hero Rod ‘Rocket’ Laver. His forearms were even bigger.)
  • The Sundance Festival was then in its infancy. It was almost a Redford family project. There was an attractive naivete about it all. ‘Independent film’ was an emerging social movement that captured some of the creative energy left over from the anti-Vietnam War and counter-cultural tides of the Sixties and Seventies. ‘Indie’ was a quality that was waiting to be defined and branded.
  • Who then could have imagined the frantic business that Sundance has become today?

PBS: Odds for Acceptance

  • The signature PBS documentary slot POV recently 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.


Inauguration Special

  • Regrettably, Gregory Crofton’s ‘theatrical feature’ Case Study of ‘2016 Obama’s America‘ is relevant on many fronts this Inauguration month.
  • That rightwing ‘bio-doc’ grossed $40+/- million, and its producer David Bossie is a player in Donald Trump’s inner circle.

Additional Research: Gregory Crofton