Sundance Institute is a non-profit organization founded by Robert Redford committed to the growth of independent artists. The institute is driven by its programs that discover and support independent filmmakers, theatre artists, and composers from all over the world. At the core of the programs is the goal to introduce audiences to the artists' new work, aided by the institute's labs, granting and mentorship programs that take place throughout the year in the United States and internationally.
The institute has offices in Park City, Los Angeles, and New York City, and provides creative and financial support to emerging and aspiring filmmakers, directors, producers, film composers, screenwriters, playwrights, and theatre artists through a series of Labs and fellowships. The programs of Sundance Institute include the Sundance film Festival, a notable and critically acclaimed film festival in the U.S. that serves as a platform for independent filmmakers, storytellers, and composers.
The Sundance Institute's founding staff, assembled in the spring of 1980, included Executive director Sterling Van Wagenen, director of film development programs Jenny Walz Selby, and director of development Jon Lear. Frank Daniel was secured as an artistic director. This staff produced the first Filmmakers Lab in June 1981, which fortuitously followed the Academy Awards at which Ordinary People (the directorial debut of Robert Redford) won numerous awards, including Best Picture. Michelle Satter joined the staff in June 1981 and subsequently opened up the Los Angeles office of the institute.
The Sundance Institute's 1981 founding board of trustees included Robert Redford, Sterling VanWagenen, Robert E. Gipson, Ian Calderon, Robert Geller, George White, Irving Azoff, Saul Bass, Ian Cumming, Frank Daniel, Christopher Dodd, Moctesuma Esparza, Dr. Robert Gray, Alan Jacobs, Karl Malden, Mary McFadden, Mike Medavoy, Victor Nunez, Wayne Owens, Sydney Pollack, Gilbert Shelton, Annick Smith, Anthony Thomopoulos, Claire Townsend, and Robert Townsend. The first six listed were also members of the executive committee.
In 1985, the Sundance Institute assumed management of the fledgling United States film Festival, which had been experiencing financial problems. The institute hired Tony Safford from the AFI Kennedy Center program as managing director and renamed the festival.
The institute started off with its Feature film Program and film Music Program (revived later in 1994) in the 1980s, then went on to include other programs such as the Native American and Indigenous film Program in 1994, the Theatre Program in 1997, the Documentary film Program in 2002, the New Frontier program in 2007, the Creative Producing Initiative in 2008, the Episodic storytelling Initiative in 2014, Sundance Ignite, a program for young filmmakers, in 2015, and the Creative Distribution Initiative (an extension of the Creative Producing Initiative) in 2017.
At the U.S. film Festival, after Sundance Institute took over in 1985, there were 85 films shown at two theatres in Park City with a staff of 13. In January 2017 at the present-day Sundance film Festival, 181 films were shown at nine Park City theatres with a staff of 224 and 71,600 attendees.