Back to IndieWire

10 Project of the Day Success Stories: Documentary Highlights

10 Project of the Day Success Stories: Documentary Highlights

Since launching our Project of the Day contest in 2011, we’ve highlighted hundreds of deserving projects. Many of them have gone on to screen at film festivals around the world, win awards and get theatrical and/or digital releases. Given that we recently updated our Project of the Day contest with a new submission form and FAQ, we thought it was the perfect time to highlight some of the success stories. 

We recently highlighted 11 narrative success stories and below you’ll find updates on previous documentary Projects of the Day with synopses courtesy of the filmmakers. Note that statements from the filmmakers are in their own words, but have been edited for length.


“Art and Craft”

Project of the Day on February 7, 2014

About the Film: Mark Landis has been called one of the most prolific art forgers in US history. His impressive body of work spans 30 years, covering a wide range of painting styles and periods that includes 15th Century Icons, Picasso and even Walt Disney. And while the copies could fetch impressive sums on the open market, Landis isn’t in it for money. Posing as a philanthropic donor, a grieving executor of a family member’s will, and most recently as a Jesuit priest, Landis has given away hundreds of works over the years to a staggering list of institutions across the United States. But after duping Matthew Leininger, a tenacious registrar who ultimately discovers the decades-long ruse and sets out to expose his philanthropic escapades to the art world, Landis must confront his own legacy and a chorus of museum professionals clamoring for him to stop. “Art and Craft” starts out as a cat-and-mouse art caper, rooted in questions of authorship and authenticity—but what emerges is an intimate story of obsession and the universal need for community, appreciation and purpose. 

The Latest: “Art and Craft” was acquired by Oscilloscope Laboratories prior to its world premiere at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and went on to receive a limited theatrical release on October 3, 2014. Co-directed by Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman, “Art and Craft” was honored as one of the Top Five Documentaries of 2014 by the National Board of Review and is currently available to watch on a variety of digital platforms. 


“Big Sonia”

Project of the Day on January 21, 2015
Winner, Project of the Week and January 2015 Project of the Month

About the Film: Standing tall at 4’8″, Sonia is one of the last remaining Holocaust survivors in Kansas City and one of the only survivors there who speaks publicly about her wartime experience. Sonia’s enormous personality and fragile frame mask the horrors she endured. At 15, she watched her mother disappear behind gas chamber doors. Sonia’s teenage years were a blur of concentration camps and death marches. On liberation day, she was accidentally shot through the chest, yet again, miraculously survived. Sonia is the ultimate survivor, a bridge between cultures and generations. Her story must never be forgotten. “Big Sonia” is a documentary about a tiny woman with a huge personality. Quirky, fearless and fabulous.

The Latest: Currently in production. Co-directors Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday recently participated in the 2015 Hot Docs Forum, where they were given the opportunity to pitch “Big Sonia” to a panel of international funders and broadcasters. Warshawski and Soliday’s pitch is discussed in our coverage of the Forum.

From the Filmmakers: “Big Sonia” being Project of the Day led to Project of the Week and ultimately Project of the Month! We were able to garner tons of support and new followers who we now consider part of our “Big Sonia” community and we’re grateful to IndieWire for the opportunity!

“Crocodile Gennadiy”
Project of the Day on July 31, 2013

About the Film: Gennadiy calls himself “Pastor Crocodile,” and is known throughout Ukraine for rehabilitating drug-addicted kids. But he’s also a vigilante who uses force to carry out his moral vision. Gennadiy believes he has made Mariupol a better place, but now, the violence in Ukraine threatens everything. A new film from the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning creators of “Blood Brother.”

The Latest: Directed by Steve Hoover, “Crocodile Gennadiy” had its world premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival and is currently playing the festival circuit.


“Kidnapped for Christ”

Project of the Day on December 24, 2013

About the Film: When young missionary Kate Logan learns of Escuela Caribe, a small Christian boarding school that bills itself as a rehabilitation center for troubled teens from the U.S., she sees the perfect opportunity to make a difference. Hoping to document the positive effects a place like this could have on struggling youth, she is allowed to live on campus in the Dominican Republic for a summer. Once there, she discovers the shocking truth beneath the sunny facade of this remote reform school and encounters David, Beth and Tai – three students who will forever change her life as she struggles to help one escape.

The Latest: “Kidnapped for Christ” had its world premiere at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival and is currently available to watch on a wide range of VOD and digital platforms. The full list of platforms is available on the film site. DVD copies of the film are also available for purchase through the site.

“Look At Us Now, Mother”
Project of the Day on August 31, 2011
Winner, Project of the Week

About the Film: A humorous, moving, intimate and courageous film following the transformation of an abusive mother and tumultuous mother-daughter relationship to that of acceptance and love as we follow the personal story of the filmmaker.

The Latest: “Look At Us Now, Mother” had its world premiere at the 2015 Sarasota Film Festival and is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit.


“Mudbloods”

Project of the Day on October 30, 2013
Winner, Project of the Week

About the Film: Transforming Harry Potter’s fictional competition into a physically demanding, real-life sport, quidditch has secured its place as one of the fastest growing collegiate club sports today. “Mudbloods” follows the resilient underdogs of the UCLA Quidditch team as they make their way to the Fifth Annual Quidditch World Cup in New York City.

The Latest: First-time director Farzad Sangari took “Mudbloods” to the 2014 AFI Docs Film Festival, where it had its world premiere. The film is currently available to watch on iTunes or through the film’s official site.

“Olancho”
Project of the Day on December 14, 2014
Winner, Project of the Week and December 2014 Project of the Month

About the Film: “Olancho” is the story of the most lawless province in Honduras, the most murderous country in the world.  It is the story of a group of musicians who perform for the powerful drug cartels there.  Their songs glorify the traffickers who have destroyed their country, and who sometimes threaten the lives of their loved ones. But in a world where the cartels wield the most power, do the musicians have any other choice?

The Latest: Currently in between production and post-production. Most recently, “Olancho” co-directors Ted Griswold & Chris Valdes participated in the 2015 Hot Docs Forum and the pitch session at the Big Sky Film Festival in Montana.

From the Filmmakers: Being featured on Indiewire as Project of the Day got all of our followers really excited about being apart of our film’s community. Our participation in the competition went viral among our social networks and it really helped to stir up interest around our documentary.


“Peace Officer”

Project of the Day on February 12, 2015

About the Film: “Peace Officer” is a feature documentary about the increasingly militarized state of American police as told through the story of William “Dub” Lawrence, a former sheriff who established and trained his rural state’s first SWAT team only to see that same unit kill his son-in-law in a controversial standoff 30 years later. Driven by an obsessed sense of mission, Dub uses his own investigative skills to uncover the truth in this and other recent officer-involved shootings in his community while tackling larger questions about the changing face of peace officers nationwide. Disturbing trends grown out of the war on drugs and the federal program that supplies military surplus to police in cities and small towns alike ultimately lead “Peace Officer” to ask the question: what force is necessary to protect the lives of both officers and citizens?

The Latest: Following its world premiere at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival — where it nabbed the Grand Jury prize and the Audience Award in the documentary competition category — “Peace Officer” was picked up for distribution by Gravitas Ventures. Co-directed by Scott Christopherson & Brad Barber, “Peace Officer” will receive a theatrical, VOD and digital release at a date that has yet to be determined this fall.


“Swim Team”

Project of the Day on February 11, 2015
Winner, Project of the Week and February 2015 Project of the Month

About the Film: “Swim Team” is a feature length documentary film that follows the extraordinary journey of three young athletes on the autism spectrum as they strive to become champions. Coming of age and facing exclusion, isolation and dependency, these boys and their parents struggle to create opportunities in and out of the water where none exist, and to define identities beyond disability. When one teen’s parents form a competitive swim team for their child and others like him, the result is the Jersey Hammerheads, a team where athletes with autism are treated like typical athletes and challenged like never before. As they push themselves to the limit, Mike Jr., Robert and Kelvin discover talents that had been hidden, confidence that is unearthed, and gifts that offer the promise of a brighter future. With all of their prospects now riding on their unexpected success in the water, the Jersey Hammerheads are determined to win gold medals so they can become winners in life. “Swim Team” tells a universal story about the ways in which sports transcends adversity, persisting against all odds, and never giving up on your child.

The Latest: Currently in post-production, “Swim Team,” director Lara Stolman’s first feature-length documentary, was recently featured in The New York Times. The film was selected to be part of the Spotlight on Documentary section of IFP’ Project Forum.

From the Filmmakers:
 Project of the Day turned out to be a crucial part of a constellation of recognition and interest that included a Huffington Post column, “The New York Times” inviting us to create an excerpt for their web site and a well timed trip to Sundance during which we generated interest from producers and distributors.

This recognition has given me a much appreciated boost of confidence as I proceed with post-production. Independent filmmaking can be isolating. Without a network or studio offering feedback, it can be tempting to lose focus on the audience for whom you’re making your film. I now know without a doubt we have an audience of fans and we’re getting to know them through social media. They are tens of thousands strong so far and they have a wide range of interests.

Personally, I couldn’t be more gratified by this knowledge that what I’m working on matters and professionally, it’s exciting to be able to cultivate and grow an audience for my work. They are waiting for my film and it means I am not alone, not entirely an “independent” independent filmmaker.


“Welcome to Leith”

Project of the Day on June 11, 2014
Winner, Project of the Week

About the Film: Leith, North Dakota is a registered ghost town of 24 people. The town has an apocalyptic beauty set against a prairie backdrop of wide-open sky and fields of wheat. In 2012, an outsider named Craig Cobb moved in and started buying up property. He accumulated twelve plots of land, some empty, some with houses in various states of disrepair. People figured he’d moved in to be close to the Bakken oil fields some 70 miles north. Turns out he was also a notorious white supremacist who was plotting a takeover of the city government. As his behavior becomes more threatening, tensions soar, and the residents desperately look for ways to expel their unwanted neighbor. “Welcome to Leith” is a feature film offering a glimpse into a town struggling for sovereignty against one man’s extremist vision. That it takes place in the shadow of the biggest oil boom in North Dakota’s history makes the film a complex document exploring unforeseen causes and effects.

The Latest: Co-directed by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, “Welcome to Leith” had its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where it screened in the U.S. documentary competition category and was well-received by critics. Indiewire’s Eric Kohn described the film as “mesmerizing” in his review published during the run of the festival. The distribution rights were picked up by First Run Features, which plans to release the film theatrically this fall. A VOD and digital release will follow.

READ MORE: 11 Project of the Day Success Stories: Read and Be Inspired

This Article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit and tagged ,