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Sundance Announces Creative Fellowship to Support Self-Distribution of Fest Favorites, Including SXSW Winner ‘Thunder Road’

Exclusive: Off its successful experiment with "Unrest" and Kogonada's "Columbus," Sundance announces a new slate of films it will assist in navigating the world of self-distribution.

Thunder Road

Kendal Farr and Jim Cummings in “Thunder Road”

The 10 East

The Sundance Institute announced today three new films that have been picked for the second edition of the Creative Distribution Fellowship. Two of the three films, “306 Hollywood” and “The Devil We Know,” are documentaries that premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, while “Thunder Road,” written and directed by the film’s star Jim Cummings, won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival. Each film’s producing team will receive a $33,333 grant to go toward the costs associated with self-distribution, including marketing expenses. The Sundance Institute will also serve as collaborators in the process, lending both its expertise and powerful reach within the industry.

In exchange, filmmakers agree to be completely transparent, sharing their data and experiences in self-distributing their films. The Creative Distribution Fellowship was established not to help individual films, but to help the Institute forge a sustainable self-distribution model that could be a true alternative for well-received festival films that don’t receive attractive distribution offers. Each film becomes a new case study and data point that will help Sundance get a fuller picture of what it takes to succeed when going-it alone.

Read More: Didn’t Get That Theatrical Deal? The Sundance Creative Fellowship Wants You to Consider Self-Distribution

This year’s three fellowship films come on the heels of the success Sundance had with “Columbus” and “Unrest” in the first edition. This spring, Sundance issued detailed case studies for both films, which supplied a clear-eyed view of what worked and what didn’t, while also helping inform what films would be selected this year.


“The films we picked have the same core features as last year’s: not only are they great films, but they have dedicated, motivated producing teams who see the entrepreneurial potential of the model,” said Chris Horton, director of the ​Creative Distribution Initiative, in an interview with IndieWire. “Additionally, all three films are very distinct in terms of their form and their likely windowing patterns, which is important in a time when independent film distribution is highly specialized. The ultimate case studies we’ll release for this films will reflect that.”

One of the biggest aspects of self-distribution in 2018 is cutting the right subscription-VOD (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu) deal. It’s important to strike a deal that is not only lucrative, but that supplies a big enough window for the film to take full advantage of a theatrical release and other potential windows.

This year, all three films being announced today already have SVOD deals in place. “The Devil We Know” applied with an existing SVOD deal, while “306 Hollywood” and “Thunder Road” are taking advantage of Amazon Prime’s Video Direct Festival Stars offer – where films premiering at a major festival get a low six-figure cash bonus and preferential revenue sharing rate for every hour they are streamed on Prime.

Read More: Amazon’s Festival Stars Program: It’s Bigger, Better, and Still Scary for Indie Filmmakers

“The key for these films is that domestic SVOD will happen far enough downstream from the initial release that we can work with the filmmakers to help them build audiences and exploit other windows first,” said Horton. “We’re currently working with the teams to build their release plans and ultimate budgets. Initial releases will happen from mid-August through late October.”

Horton told IndieWire that one of the biggest changes that was being made after last year’s experience was making sure enough time was set aside early in the process to meet with the filmmaking teams to vet ideas and options before putting plans into action. Along these lines, each of the filmmaking teams has already started an intensive conversation with Sundance.

“We began to implement day-long mentorship sessions with some trusted industry veterans who gave the film teams take-it-or-leave-it advice on everything from trailer design to theatrical expansion,” said Horton. “We did these sessions immediately after selecting the films, and the filmmakers received a necessary indie film distribution crash-course along with some specific ideas they can take with them in their work over the coming months.”

Find out more information about this year’s three Sundance Creative Fellowship below:

“306 Hollywood”

Jonathan Bogarin shooting a scale model on "306 Hollywood"

Jonathan Bogarin shooting a scale model on “306 Hollywood”

When siblings Elan and Jonathan Bogarín lose their grandma, they face a profound question: When a loved one dies, what do we do with everything they left behind? Turning the documentary form on its head, the Bogaríns embark on a magical-realist journey that transforms Grandma’s cluttered New Jersey home into a visually exquisite ruin, where tchotchkes become artifacts and the siblings become archaeologists. With help from physicists, curators, and archivists, they excavate the extraordinary universe contained in a family home.

Directors Elan and Jonathan Bogarín: “The Sundance fellowship offers us a unique opportunity to develop a custom distribution strategy that matches the creativity we brought to our film ‘306 Hollywood.’ Distribution tends to be one-size-fits-all, and we want to break out of this mold, experiment, and think of reaching our audience as part of the creative process.”

“The Devil We Know”

“The Devil We Know”

Unraveling one of the biggest environmental scandals of our time, a group of citizens in West Virginia take on a powerful corporation after they discover it has knowingly been dumping a toxic chemical — now found in the blood of 99.7% of Americans — into the drinking water supply.

Director Stephanie Soechtig: ”There are some films that deserve a unique distribution approach in order to maximize impact. ‘The Devil We Know’ was always intended to be a tool for change, and I am delighted and honored to work with Sundance to realize that goal.”

“Thunder Road”

Jim Cummings in Thunder Road

Jim Cummings in “Thunder Road”

Jim Cummings

Writer/Director Jim Cummings stars as Officer Arnaud, a Texas police officer who struggles to raise his daughter as a love letter to his late mom.

Cummings: ”We were lucky enough to be selected by Sundance for the Creative Distribution Fellowship, which will allow us to release and own ‘Thunder Road’ ourselves. We want to encourage young filmmakers to self-distribute and to utilize mentors and peer relationships to navigate the market of film distribution while building a highway for the release of their future films. In 2018, it’s possible to have a very successful film and not get offers for distribution.”

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