The Southern Documentary Fund (SDF) is a nonprofit arts organization that cultivates documentary projects made in or about the American South. Inspired by our core belief that documentaries have the power to change lives and communities, we serve as a leading advocate for powerful southern storytelling, providing filmmakers and artists with professional support, filmmaking grants, and fiscal sponsorship. Since its founding in 2002, SDF has sponsored over 150 projects that have screened all over the world, won critical acclaim and prestigious awards, and inspired audiences with authentic stories that matter.
SDF-sponsored projects often aim to bring injustice to light, and to reveal truths, large and small, about the world around us. In just the past couple of years alone SDF has sponsored award-winning films with important messages of hope and change—films like Private Violence, about domestic abuse, The Case Against 8, about the battle for marriage equality, and Los Jets, about discrimination against immigrants. That said, SDF is not curatorial, or didactic. The work of our artists covers a broad spectrum of topics told from multiple points of view. Every project is editorially independent; SDF does not support works-for-hire or branded content. SDF also believes deeply in the power of film to enlighten and inspire through its craft and artistry. While many of our films address obvious social issues, many are simply good stories, or good art. We have sponsored dozens of films about athletics, music, artmaking, family dynamics, or unique cultures and lifestyles. The demand for documentary programming has grown exponentially, in no small part thanks to the more cinematic nature of the works themselves. SDF supports our makers in creating more artful projects.
SDF was founded in 2002 by two independent filmmakers, Steve Channing and Cynthia Hill. They were producing and directing feature-length documentaries, and found themselves reaching out to organizations in New York or on the West Coast to sponsor their films. Eventually Cynthia and Steve felt compelled to create a home for southern storytellers closer to home. Based in Durham, North Carolina, SDF became the first and only arts nonprofit dedicated to supporting documentary artists in the American South, filling a substantial gap in services locally and within the region. Over the past decade, SDF has become a trusted partner for veteran, emerging, and first-time documentary producers across our region, helping them direct their lenses and microphones at powerful southern stories and critical issues. The work of SDF artists covers a diverse spectrum of topics—civil rights, the environment, history, and the arts—and their films are being used as effective tools for social change, education, and community development. SDF is passionate about providing our artists with opportunities for professional growth, offering support and programming that connects them to the resources necessary to hone their skills, complete their projects, and exhibit them widely. And as a leading advocate for documentary culture in the Southeast, SDF forges relationships between our regional makers and industry professionals around the country. Since our founding, SDF has sponsored over 100 independent documentaries. Currently we have approximately 77 active documentaries on the roster, a record number for our small organization.