Sundance announces documentary film grants

British co-production Dayani Cristal among recipients.

by Amber Wilkinson

UK co-production Dayani Cristal is among the 29 feature documentaries to receive $582,000 in grants from the Sundance Institute's Documentary Film Program.

London-born director Marc Silver's film is an examination of the deaths of migrants in Arizona's desert, focusing on an unknown dead man, whose only identifying feature was a tattoo reading "Dayani Cristal".

Omar Mullick, also originally from London is also among the recipients of development cash for his portrait of Pakistan (co-directed with US documentarian Bassam Tariq) These Birds Walk.

The DFP celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2012 and since its inception has awarded grants to more than 300 documentary filmmakers in 61 countries.

Director of the Institute's Documentary Film Programme Cara Mertes said:“For many of these filmmakers, receiving a grant will be just the beginning of our relationship with them.

"These filmmakers are also eligible for year-round creative support through our programs, including creative labs, work-in-progress screenings, and events and activities at the Sundance Creative Producing Summit and Sundance Film Festival. We welcome these filmmakers to our community and look forward to working with them to further support and develop their unique visions."

Awarding grants is a core activity of Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Programme. Proposals are accepted twice a year. Visit in January for more information about the Spring 2012 round of funding from the DFP.

The full list of those receiving funding is below.


The Bill (US/Philippines)
Director: Ramona Diaz A political firestorm hits the Philippines when The Bill, a reproductive health bill that could legalise birth control in the world's 12th most populous nation, pits tradition against reform and brings the culture war into the streets and churches.

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield (US)
Director: Richard Rowley Reporting from the battlefields of the war on terror, journalist Jeremy Scahill investigates the wars waged by and against an empire, and constructs a global picture of asymmetric warfare today.

Leone Stars (Canada/Sierra Leone) Directors: Ngardy Conteh and Allan Tong Surviving war, poverty and prejudice, the Sierra Leone amputee soccer team dreams of victory at the 2012 world championships. Can victims become champions?

The Mouse That Roared (US/Iceland) Director: Judith Ehrlich A great struggle for free speech in the 21st century will be fought online, and the first volley has been fired in Iceland. This film follows Birgitta Jónsdóttir, trailblazing Icelandic parliamentarian and former WikiLeaks leader, as she takes us inside the global fight for internet freedom.

The New Black (US) Director: Yoruba Richen The New Black is a documentary that uncovers the complicated and often combative histories of the African-American and gay civil-rights movements.

The Reckoning With Torture Project (US) Director: Doug Liman Reading from secret documents chronicling the United States’ post-9/11 torture program, Americans from all walks of life join with leading cultural figures and former military and civilian officials to create a rolling, national performance.


A Whole Lott More (US) Director: Victor Buhler Lott Industries, outside of Detroit, employs more than 1200 workers, all with developmental disabilities. For decades the workers excelled at assembling car parts. However, the decline of the auto industry has pushed this unique workplace to the brink of survival.

Cooked (US) Director: Judith Helfand Cooked is a story about extreme heat, poverty and the politics of "disaster". Whoever gets to declare "disaster" also gets to determine when it started, when it’s over and how to fix it.

Escape Fire: The Fight To Rescue American Healthcare (US) Directors: Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke Escape Fire exposes the perverse nature of American healthcare, contrasting the powerful forces opposing change with the creative solutions and compelling stories of pioneering leaders and the patients they seek to help. The film is about finding a way out, and about saving the health of a nation.

These Birds Walk (US/Pakistan) Directors: Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq A portrait of contemporary Pakistan is created through the eyes of an ambulance driver and a runaway boy who call a humanitarian and his mission-based organisation home.

Gideon's Army (US) Director: Dawn Porter In the deepest South a group of dedicated lawyers is determined to find a way to represent the poor. But with large caseloads, long hours, low pay and harsh sentences can they honour their intentions?

Gulabi (India/Norway) Director: Nishtha Jain In Bundelkhand, India, a revolution is in the making among the poorest of the poor, as Sampat Pal and the fiery women of her Gulabi Gang empower themselves and take up the fight against gender violence, caste oppression and widespread corruption.

The History Of The Universe As Told By Wonder Woman (US) Director: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan Through the fascinating journey of the beloved superhero, Wonder Woman, the film explores the evolution of heroic women in American pop culture from the birth of the comic book in the 1940s, to TV action heroes of the Sixtie and Seventies, and, finally, the big screen blockbusters of today.

How To Survive A Plague (US) Director: David France Highlighting a small group of activists that exploded into a mass social movement over a 10-year period, How To Survive A Plague uncovers the little known story of how AIDS stopped being a death sentence.

Invisible War (US) Director: Kirby Dick An investigative and powerfully emotional documentary about the under-reported epidemic of sexual assault in our US military, and its startling and profound personal and social consequences.

Let The Fire Burn (US) Director: Jason Osder Philadelphia, 1985: tensions between the radical African American group MOVE and the city police spiral out of control, resulting in a fire that claims 11 lives and destroys 61 homes in a forgotten national tragedy that still resonates today.

Nuclear Underground (US) Directors: Peter Galison and Robb Moss How can humankind dispose of and live with nuclear waste, a material that remains dangerous for a period as far into the future as we are from the Ice Age?

Noces Rouges (Red Wedding) (Cambodia) Directors: Lida Chan and Guillaume P Suon Between 1975 and 1979, at least 250,000 women were forced into marriages by the Khmer Rouge. Noces Rouges (Red Wedding) is the story of one of its victims, Pen Sochan, who pits her humanity against an ideology and a system designed to annihilate people like her.

Strong Island (US) Director: Yance Ford Set in the suburbs of the black middle class, Strong Island chronicles the director’s investigation into her brother’s violent death 20 years ago.

Untitled: 1971 (US) Director: Johanna Hamilton Filmmaker Johanna Hamilton continues her exploration of social movements and the limits of dissent, this time turning her lens to domestic contradictions in North America.

Who Is Dayani Cristal? (UK/Mexico) Director: Marc Silver A man is found dead at the US/Mexico border. An investigation uncovers a tale of family and faith, discovered by tracing his body's only identifying feature; a tattoo reading "Dayani Cristal".


Crime After Crime (US) Director: Yoav Potash Two attorneys fight for the freedom of Deborah Peagler, 20 years into her life sentence for the murder of the man who abused her. The audience engagement campaign will partner with policy makers, legislative organisations, and legal education groups to inform other states about the successful California law allowing incarcerated survivors of domestic violence to petition for their freedom.

Fix Food (US) Director: Robert Kenner Building on Oscar-nominated Food, Inc., Fix Food is a cross-media film and social action project using viral videos, an interactive website and community engagement to activate a mainstream audience to help transform the food system, which over time can lead to broader social change.

Gasland (US) Director: Josh Fox It is happening all across America; rural landowners wake up one day to find a lucrative offer from an energy company wanting to lease their property. Reason? The company hopes to tap into a reservoir dubbed the "Saudi Arabia of natural gas." The audience engagement award will support Fox’s ongoing effort to educate potentially vulnerable communities to the dangers of fracking; inspire political engagement around unregulated drilling; and bring together state and local grassroots efforts nationwide.

Our School (Romania/US) Director: Mona Nicoara Shot over four years, Our School follows three Roma children in a small Transylvanian town who are among the pioneer participants in an initiative to integrate the ethnically segregated Romanian schools. The audience engagement award will support targeted screenings in the Human Rights community internationally, as well mobilise new energies at a moment that is ripe for change, when Europe has its own Brown vs. Board of Education moment.

Semper Fi: Always Faithful (US) Directors: Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon When Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger’s young daughter dies from a rare type of leukemia, his search for the cause leads him to the shocking discovery of one of the largest water contaminations in US history. The audience engagement award will support the effort to help notify families who may be affected by contaminated water on military bases, and help support screenings for legislators interested in health care for affected veterans.


The Kill Team (US) Director: Dan Kraus The Kill Team tells the story of an American soldier who attempted to thwart U.S. war crimes even more heinous than Abu Ghraib, and who himself is now standing trial for murder.

The Shadow World (US) Director: Johan Grimonprez The Shadow World explores the arms industry: a business in which profits are calculated in the tens of millions of dollars, while losses are counted in human lives.


The Silence of Others (US/Spain) Director: Almudena Carracedo After decades of silence, children stolen during Franco’s brutal dictatorship begin the search to find loved ones and to confront the perpetrators. The Silence of Others will be a deeply personal account of Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy.

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