Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano is among this year's Sundance Documentary Film Program recipients | Photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Sundance Documentary Film Program Supports 20 Projects

2021 cohort represents international reach of 19 countries

14 mins read

Twenty projects have received support from the Sundance Documentary Film Program. The Sundance Institute released the list of recipients today for doc projects in various stages of production from development through post and impact. The program, which elevates filmmakers who present a distinct voice and innovative way of making connections with audiences, recognizes a diverse mix of U.S. and international titles this year. Half of the ten U.S. projects credit BIPOC creators, while half of the international projects represent regions that the Documentary Film Program identifies as areas in which freedom of expression is at risk or where film sectors need additional support. The funds for the projects total $600,000 USD in unrestricted grant support.

“With this expansive cohort, the Documentary Film Fund is holding true to its commitment to independent storytelling,” said Carrie Lozano, Director of Documentary Film Program and Artist Programs, in a statement from the Sundance Institute. “As we celebrate 20 years of funding hundreds of films, these films are a tangible representation of all that we stand for and value.”

“The projects selected embrace an incredibly eclectic range of cinematic languages that expands the vocabulary of documentary film,” added Paola Mottura, Documentary Film Fund Director. “But they also share a common denominator, which expresses the spirit of Sundance. These stories get us out of our comfort zone and challenge our received world-views and assumptions by constantly pushing us to do better as a society and as people.”

The international scope of this year’s Documentary Film Program represents nineteen counties from around the globe. Productions and co-productions include projects from Ecuador, Palestine, Guatemala, Bangladesh, and Mongolia. The 2021 cohort features up-and-coming directors and producers exploring stories of systemic racism, urban development, and a personal study of film-on-film and family legacy.

Previous recipients of the Documentary Film Program support have gone on to earn international acclaim and recognition, including Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap, RaMell Ross’s Hale County This Morning, This Evening, James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham’s Crip Camp, Petra Costa’s The Edge of Democracy, and Yance Ford’s Strong Island, all of which were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.


This year’s list of Sundance Documentary Film Program recipients is as follows:




Anna Borges do Sacramento (Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Spain)

Director: Aída Bueno Sarduy

Producers: Paula Zyngierman, Leandro Listorti

On March 3rd 1734, Anna Borges do Sacramento, an Afro-descendant Brazilian slave, brought a civil action against her first owner, to maintain her “free” status, acquired 16 years earlier. Her history, archived and practically unknown, reveals the iniquity of the legal devices that for centuries sustained the legality of the slave system.


The Broken R (Ecuador, Italy)

Director: Ricardo Ruales

Producers: Soledad Santelices / Matteo Pecorara

From the speech therapy process that I took, many questions about the voice arose, about my own voice and how it sounded. An intimate and family portrait that tries to face the search about questioning oneself, and above all questioning one’s own voice, and understanding it as identity.


Chain of Rocks (U.S.A.)

Director: Damon Davis

Producers: Chris Renteria, Damon Davis

A death row inmate confesses to a crime after 30 years of maintaining his innocence. Now, an activist who once fought for his exoneration is faced with the moral dilemma of whether the fight was in vain. Chain of Rocks is an animated feature-length documentary that explores the complexities of race and masculinity and how they skew our worldview and play a role in oppressive systems.


Colors of White Rock (France, Mongolia)

Director: Khoroldorj Choijoovanchig

Producers: Tessa Louise Salomé, Chantal Perrin

Maikhuu is one of thousands of coal truck drivers fighting for survival along Mongolia’s hazardous mining roads. Her story encapsulates the dilemma the country is experiencing as its decade-long mining boom continues to shake the society.


The Past is Waiting Up Ahead (Guatemala, U.S.A.)

Director: Gerardo del Valle

Producer: Gerardo del Valle

Revisiting the route he traveled as an unaccompanied minor when he was eight, poet Javier Zamora has taken it upon himself to confront his past and discover how the undocumented route from Central America to the United States has changed in the last twenty years.


unseen (U.S.A.)

Director: Set Hernandez Rongkilyo

Producers: Set Hernandez Rongkilyo, Day Al-Mohamed

unseen is a multi-platform documentary that follows the story of Pedro, an aspiring social worker who happens to be a blind, undocumented immigrant. Through Pedro’s personal journey, this “audio-based” film reimagines the accessibility of cinema, while exploring the systemic intersections of immigration, disability, and mental health.


Waiting For Winter (Bangladesh, France, Germany)

Director: Farid Ahmad

Producers: Salma Sonia, Vincent Wang, Christoph Hahnheiser

Bangladesh is the largest delta of the world where floods become devastating during each summer. When winter arrives, an island emerges beside the Jamuna river and a homeless mother serves there as cheap labor, caught in a modern slavery system. She fights to break down this chain of subjugation. (KENDEDA FUND)




Eat Bitter (Central African Republic, China)

Directors: Pascale Appora-Gnekindy, Ningyi Sun

Producer: Mathieu Faure

During a civil war in the Central African Republic, an immigrant Chinese construction manager and a local African laborer work on opposite ends of the spectrum to construct a sparkling new bank. As deadlines loom, they don’t hesitate to strip the earth and destroy their family lives for a seat at the table of prosperity.


Heatroom (Hong Kong)

Directors: Chan Hau Chun, Chui Chi Yin

Producer: Peter Yam

The documentary tells the stories of a group of subdivided flat residents who live in the same building for over a few years. Having little control over their destinies, individuals wrestle with immense suppression of the times, yet flourish with dignity in their everyday lives.


No Other Land (Palestine)

Directors: Basel Al Adarra, Yuval Abraham, Hamdan Balal, Rachel Shor

Producers: Basel Al Adarra, Yuval Abraham, Hamdan Balal, Rachel Shor

For ten years, Basel, a young Palestinian activist, has been filming homes in his community being destroyed by Israeli soldiers. During the darkest period of his life, in face of mass eviction of his community, he develops an unlikely, intimate relationship with a similarly aged Israeli journalist who joins his struggle.


Red Herring (working title) (U.K.)

Director: Kit Vincent

Producers: Ed Owles, Dea Gjinovci

After a young filmmaker is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, he decides to follow his family’s spiritual and darkly humorous journey towards acceptance.


The Vagrant Master (China)

Directors: Weichao Xu, Weixi Chen

Producers: Jia Zhao, Weicong Xia

After living in seclusion with his books for 26 years, Shen Wei, an erudite trash collector, inadvertently became a viral sensation thanks to a live streaming app, where he was venerated by millions of followers as China’s “Vagrant Master”. The overnight fame reintroduced Shen to a society that once left him behind. When the frenzy abruptly subsided two years later, however, Shen found himself caught in a dilemma and started to lose control of his life.


Third Act (U.S.A.)

Director: Tadashi Nakamura

Producer: Ursula Liang

On its surface, Third Act is a biopic that explores Robert Nakamura’s role as the “Godfather of Asian American film,” made by his son, Tadashi Nakamura. But with his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, the film poses a complex question: how can a father and son say goodbye?


Untitled Lerone D. Wilson Documentary (U.S.A.)

Director: Lerone D. Wilson

Producers: Andrea Mustain, Lerone D. Wilson

Good intentions, unforeseen consequences, and the forces of the Internet collide, revealing the humanity—and the humans—confronting the unprecedented power of social media.

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation


Untitled Prison Hunger Strike Film (U.S.A.)

Directors: Lucas Guilkey, JoeBill Muñoz

Producers: Lucas Guilkey, JoeBill Muñoz

A feature documentary about the rise and fall of California’s system of indefinite solitary confinement.

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation


Watertight (U.S.A.)

Director: Fox Maxy

Producers: Michel Sayegh, Jaida Grey Eagle, Mad Max Alo

A collection of interviews about mental health and suicide, interrupted by fake commercials, reality tv parodies, animations and archival footage. Watertight flips through channels, traveling around Indian country and big cities, following people who create their own realities. This film is for freaks.




Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano (Lebanon, France)

Director: Cyril Aris

Producers: Katharina Weser, Myriam Sassine

A country that experiences one disaster after another. A film crew that surmounts the insurmountable to shoot their vision of Lebanon’s future. A portrait of Beirut society in the aftermath of the August 4th 2020 port explosion, struggling to rebuild, resist, and ultimately find life again.


Hidden Letters (China, U.S.A., Norway, Germany)

Directors: Violet Du Feng, Zhao Qing

Producers: Violet Du Feng, Mette Cheng Munthe-Kaas, Jean Tsien, Su Kim

Hidden Letters tells the story of two Chinese women trying to balance their lives as independent women in modern China while confronting the traditional identity that defines but also oppresses them. Connected through their love for Nushu — a centuries-old secret text shared amongst women — each of them transforms through a pivotal period of their lives and takes a step closer to becoming the individuals they know they can be.


I Didn’t See You There (U.S.A.)

Director: Reid Davenport

Producer: Keith Wilson

Spurred by the spectacle of a circus tent that goes up outside his Oakland apartment, a disabled filmmaker launches into an unflinching meditation on freakdom, (in)visibility, and the pursuit of individual agency.


Razing Liberty Square (U.S.A.)

Director: Katja Esson

Producers: Katja Esson, Ann Bennett, Corinna Sager, Ronald Baez

Miami is ground zero for sea level rise. When residents of the Liberty Square public-housing community learn about a $300 million revitalization project in 2015, they soon discover that this sudden interest comes from the fact that their neighborhood is located on the highest-and-driest ground in the city. Now they must prepare to fight a new form of racial injustice – Climate Gentrification. (KENDEDA FUND)


Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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