The Sundance Institute and A&E are partnering on a new series of grants that will help documentary filmmakers develop their projects. Dubbed the “Brave Storytellers Award,” the program will give four directors $25,000 in seed funding, as well as mentorship from the staff of the Institute. The idea is to help them shape their documentaries at the earliest stages of their production.
“We want to develop the bench of documentary filmmakers,” said Molly Thompson, the founder and head of A&E IndieFilms. “These are basically fire-starter grants. They let people come in with an idea, and gives them a chance to shoot for a few days and see if they have enough to make a film.”
A&E IndieFilms is the feature documentary division of A&E Network. The channel has been very active in the space in recent years, fielding such acclaimed films as “City of Ghosts,” “Cartel Land,” “The Imposter,” and “Life Animated.” This year the division debuted “Studio 54,” Matt Tyrnauer’s comprehensive look at the disco mecca, at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received sterling reviews. The company often partners with indie studios such as Magnolia, Sony Pictures Classics, or The Orchard to release their films theatrically. “Studio 54” is looking for theatrical distribution.
The Sundance Institute not only presents the Utah-based film festival of the same name, but it also nurtures rising directors and screenwriters by pairing them with established directors, editors, cinematographers and actors who serve as creative advisers.
Rob Sharenow, president of programming at A&E Networks, praised Thompson’s work in building the division into a premiere boutique label, calling it “the mouse that roared” when it comes to releasing documentaries. He said that ideally the grant will identify filmmakers who can join the fold.
“The dream is to discover new voices,” said Sharenow. “It gives us the opportunity to stay involved in some of these projects. Sometimes we will and sometimes we won’t.”