Southern Documentary Fund is based in Durham, North Carolina and serves documentary filmmakers living or working in the American South – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. We support artists throughout the South, pointing their lenses wherever they choose—locally, around the region, or internationally. We also work with artists from all over the country who have chosen to tell a Southern story.


Fiscal Sponsorship

SDF is currently sponsoring over 75 inspiring and important documentaries, collaborating closely on getting these projects funded, made, and seen.


Filmmaking Grants

Each year, SDF is proud to award 20 cash grants to filmmakers telling stories they are connected to, that fully represent the complexity and nuance of the American South.


Fresh Docs

Fresh Docs is SDF’s free, monthly, work-in-progress screening series. These screenings give SDF filmmakers an opportunity to show their work fresh from the edit suite, and receive constructive feedback on story, structure, and characters from a diverse audience. As a result, not only do our artists make better films, but SDF grows documentary audiences by engaging them meaningfully in the creative process.


Artists Convening

The SDF Annual Artists Convening takes place each spring in Durham, NC. Filmmakers from around the South and beyond are invited for a weekend of enlightening workshops, panels, and pitch sessions, combined with a healthy dose of community building and peer networking.

Apply for a



  • Applicants must reside in one of the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
  • The grant cycle for 2020 is now closed.


These grants are made possible thanks to generous support from The MacArthur Foundation. For questions regarding eligibility or the application process, please email:

Previous Grantees for Production and R&D are listed here.
The North Carolina Grant winners are listed here.

R&D Grant

We will be awarding at least 10 grants in the amount of $5,000.

Yes, we are looking for Southern Makers. You may collaborate with a key team member who resides in another state, however, the primary Maker must reside in the South. 

Makers who are enrolled in an academic or degree-granting program at the time of application or during the grant period are not eligible; however, school faculty are eligible to apply. 

No, you can not apply separately, we will accept one application per project, per grant cycle.

You do not have to be a non-profit or have an LLC to apply.

Yes, as long as you are able to document your hours and the work that you’ve done. 

We hope that you use the research and development process to help you determine the length and scope of your film.

There is not a turnaround time for a completed project. 

It’s not about how long it is, but how the piece represents you as a filmmaker.

First time applicants often do not address these questions:

-Why am I passionate about making this project?

-Who is my core audience?

-Is your film journalistic or advocacy in nature?

Fiscal Sponsorship

The Southern Documentary Fund offers fiscal sponsorship for documentary projects made in or about the American South. Having a fiscal sponsor allows makers to solicit funds from government agencies, foundations, trusts, individuals, and other philanthropic sources that require IRS nonprofit status in order to contribute to a project. These contributions are then tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. SDF charges a modest 6% administrative fee for any monies contributed to projects through our Fiscal Sponsorship program, plus credit card or other payment processing fees incurred for online donations.

Project Directors (PD’s) must submit an application for each project seeking sponsorship (see submission info below). All submissions are reviewed by our New Projects Panel, and accepted or denied based on artistic and editorial merit, project director’s ability to continue fundraising for the project and the need for fiscal sponsorship and mentoring services. Sponsored projects range from broadcast-quality feature-length documentaries with budgets close to one million dollars, to relatively modest projects with budgets in the thousands. We sponsor first films by passionate and talented novices, as well as works of mid-career professionals or veterans. In addition to films, SDF is proud of our distinctive collection of sponsored photography and audio projects. The range of subject matters is broad and diverse, including projects about social justice, the environment, history, and the arts.

Projects accepted into the fiscal sponsorship program must adhere to SDF’s mission and values. SDF operates within the frameworks of “Nothing About Us Without Us”, seeking project directors and team leaders that evidence a connection to the stories they tell. If a PD makes work about a community that he/she/they has no direct connection to, SDF requires that the PD seeks partnerships with a member(s) from that community in the documentary process. At SDF, we expect PD’s to seek accountability to those whose stories they share.

Artists are invited to apply to SDF for fiscal sponsorship year-round through our online form at The application fee is $25.  

Click here to apply.
The required fee must be paid separately through PayPal here.
Criteria for project selection includes:

  • Project Director(s) actively fundraising through the duration of fiscal sponsorship.
  • Project Directors connection to subject matter.
  • Feasibility of the project (budget, financing, schedule, and scope).
  • Project should meet the goals of SDF as stated in our mission and values.
  • Well written and well-researched proposals.
  • Potential to reach its intended audience.

Vivian Bowman-Edwards

Allison Inman
Eric Johnson
Devon Smith
Naomi Walker
Gabrielle Etienne

Deepest thanks to former panelists over the years:
Mark Barroso
Mikel Barton
Sally Bloom
Dawn Dreyer
Lana Garland
Sandra Jacobi
Nazanin Knudsen
Michelle Lanier
Eric Martin
Marc Maximov
Jim O’Brien
Bruce Orenstein
Rachel Raney
Courtney Reid-Eaton
Diane Robertson
Loren Smith
Nicole Triche
Judy Van Wyk
Monique Velazquez
Tom Whiteside


Fiscal sponsorship allows individual artists or production companies to solicit charitable donations for a specific project under the umbrella of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Many foundations and government agencies require that you have a fiscal sponsor to be eligible for grants. As your fiscal sponsor, SDF becomes the nonprofit tax-exempt organization that allows you to receive contributions from individuals, foundations, corporations, and government agencies that may not otherwise be available to you. Cash donations received on behalf of your project are tax-deductible for the donor. SDF consults regularly with our sponsored projects regarding fundraising, but our staff does not do grant writing, crowdfunding, or other types of fundraising for you. Although SDF does award 3–4 modest filmmaking grants each fall, we do not fund all our sponsored projects.

Yes! Currently, SDF has three grants. Click here for more information.

You can apply for fiscal sponsorship with SDF at any phase: pre-production, production, or post-production. Filmmakers have also used SDF as a sponsor for distribution grants or to accept donations to do outreach and related community engagement projects.

SDF sponsors projects by filmmakers who are living in the South, and/or filmmakers living anywhere in the country or around the world who are telling stories about or related to the American South. You do not need to live in a southern U.S. state to apply for fiscal sponsorship with SDF, but your project must be related to our mission to tell stories about the American South. These guidelines vary when applying for grants, please see specific grant guidelines for eligibility requirements.

Yes, as long as your project is non-fiction focused. We also sponsor audio, photography, and multimedia projects along with short and feature-length documentary films. If you are not sure if your project fits our criteria, feel free to write to us before applying.

SDF accepts applications on a quarterly basis. Deadlines are January 15, April 15, July 15, and October 15. Click here for more information.  

Yes. If you have an immediate need for a fiscal sponsor we can review projects out of cycle. Please email us at to see if your project qualifies.

We accept applications via during four submission cycles throughout the year. Deadlines are January 15, April 15, July 15, and October 15; immediately following each deadline the new submission cycle begins. 

Applications must be submitted by midnight on the deadline date. All application must be submitted electronically and follow the guidelines here.

The New Projects Panel meets shortly after the deadline and all applicants will be notified via email within 2–3 weeks following the deadline.

Yes. If you’d like feedback, please email to request a phone consultation with a member of our New Projects Panel.

Filmmakers who are denied can resubmit if the Panel offers you the opportunity.

See below a not-so-random collection of organizations we collaborate with or admire. And other helpful folks.