In 6 years, 106 films have played at the Sundance Film Festival that have been Kickstarter-funded, and since 2011 over 430 Sundance alumni have run Kickstarter campaigns as part of their partnership with the Sundance Institute.
January 2011 was the beginning of Kickstarter’s partnership with the Sundance Institute. Five films that were Kickstarter-funded made it into the lineup for Sundance that year, most notably Dee Rees’ “Pariah,” which raised a modest $11,000. Rees returned to Sundance in 2016 with “Mudbound.”
In 2012, 19 films were Kickstarted, making up 10 percent of the Sundance lineup. Notable films that made it into the slate that year included: Alison Klayman’s “Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry,” Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady’s “Detropia,” Ira Sachs’ “Keep the Lights On,” Rodney Ascher’s “Room 237,” and Terence Nance’s “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty.”
With 19 films at Sundance, Kickstarter threw its first big party at the fest. The 3-year-old company got a big New York Times piece titled “At Sundance, Kickstarter resembled a movie studio, but without the egos.” The crowdfunding wave really started at this point.
In 2013, Jehane Noujaim’s revolutionary doc “The Square”, which raised more than $126,000 on Kickstarter, won the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary at Sundance and went on to an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature in 2014. The film, which raised more than $126,000 on Kickstarter, also has the distinction of having the largest number of backers for a Kickstarter-funded documentary that has played Sundance, with more than 1,400 backers.
In January 2014, Zach Braff’s “Garden State” followup “Wish I Was Here” played at Sundance and is still the third most successfully funded film project for Kickstarter, raising over $3.1 million with the help of more than 46k backers, hitting its goal of $2 million in 3 days. Braff stated on the campaign page, “I couldn’t help but think maybe there is a new way to finance smaller, personal films that didn’t involve signing away all your artistic control.”
David Cross, an original investor in Kickstarter, premiered “Hits” at Sundance 2014. It received plenty of offers from distributors, but he decided to eventually release the film in “an unusual way.” He turned to Kickstarter after the festival to raise funds for release. For the campaign page, he wrote, “We want you to decide how much tickets cost and you pay artists directly, not distributors or studios. This is an experiment, a first of its kind to see if we can make it more sustainable for both fans, and filmmakers. In order to do this in theaters as widely as possible we need your help to raise $100K. We are distributing ourselves and there are costs associated with making all of this happen. In addition to theater rental fees, we need to cover our marketing and publicity efforts. We ideally want to be in 50 markets, but the more money we raise the more theaters we can be in, so if we go over $100k, we’ll just expand our plans, which would be great!”
They raised over $106,000 and released the dark comedy nationally in 50 theaters. It was the first film distributed by BitTorrent Bundles as a Pay What You Want release.
“What We Do In the Shadows” cast and producers
In January of 2015, Brett Haley’s “I’ll See You in My Dreams” premiered at Sundance, eventually becoming a top crowdfunded theatrical release with box office receipts totaling box office receipts totaling $7.4 million.
“World of Tomorrow” premiered at Sundance in January of 2015, winning the Grand Jury Prize for Short Film. Later, the film used Kickstarter for its Blu-ray release, raising over $215,000. It went on to get nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2016.
In January of 2016, the Festival presented “Behind the Scenes of Anomalisa,” including a screening of the film, followed by a conversation and Q&A with Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson. Prior to that, the stop-motion animated feature raised more than $400,000 on Kickstarter from 5,770 backers (doubling its $200k original goal). Paramount distributed the film and it went on to receive major Golden Globe, Indie Spirit and Oscar nominations.
Documentary filmmakers have boomed on Kickstarter and recently crossed 1 million backers, backing docs at a rate of more than 600 pledges a day.
Heavy hitters include Brian Knappenberger’s “The Internet’s Own Boy” (2014), David Felix Sutcliffe & Lyric R. Cabral’s “(T)error” (2015), Stanley Nelson’s “Black Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution” (2015), Penny Lane’s “NUTS!” (2016), Chris Hegedus & D.A. Pennebaker’s “Unlocking the Cage” (2016), Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack’s “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” (2016), and this year, Jennifer Brea’s intimate portrait of herself in “Unrest.”
Sundance has embraced episodic. Actress, writer, director, comedian and Youtube personality, Jessie Kahnweiler’s “The Skinny” premiered at Sundance with six, ten-minute episodes. Produced by Jill Soloway, the series stars Kahnweiler and Ileana Douglas as her mother. The dark comedy series chronicles an LA feminist online star dealing with bulimia. The series streamed exclusively on Refinery29 as well as Soloway’s video network Wifey.tv. The show originally raised over $12,000 on Kickstarter prior to Sundance. She recently inked a deal to develop “The Skinny” into a half hour comedy on Hulu.
This year, the Sundance films that used Kickstarter included documentaries like Jennifer Brea’s “Unrest,” Amman Abaasi’s “Dayveon,” Laura Dunn & Jef Sewell’s “Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry” and Justin Chon’s narrative feature “Gook.” They joined 40 alumni who also have works in this year’s festival like Stanley Nelson, Pamela Yates, Dee Rees, Terence Nance, Gillian Robespierre, Brett Haley, Michael Almereyda, Dustin Guy Defa and more.
Image: Photo courtesy of Cximple
Image: Focus Features
Image: Jean Christophe Husson
Image: Netflix, Noujaim Films
Image: Courtesy 2014 Sundance Institute/Photo by Jonathan Hickerson