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Sundance Film Festival 2022 aims to champion freedom of creative expression and independent voice

Festival director envisions a hybrid platform going forward

Clockwise from the top left: Sundance Film Festival Director Tabitha Jackson, director of strategic initiatives John Nein, program director Kim Yutani, YSL interpreter Amy Johnson and New Frontier curator Shari Frilot, address a virtual audience during the Sundance Film Festival's opening day press conference on Thursday.
Scott Iwasaki/Park Record

Although this year’s Sundance Film Festival will be held online, Festival Director Tabitha Jackson envisions the event being a hybrid of in-person and virtual offerings going forward into the future.

“We will do it in any way we can this time every year,” Jackson said Thursday during the 2022 Sundance Film Festival’s online opening day press conference. “We have been determined that we will gather and converge in any way we can … (in) celebrating and championing the project of freedom of creative expression and the independent voice.”

Jackson’s remarks addressed the issue of this year’s festival, which will run through Jan. 30, pivoting from a combination of an in-person and virtual event to a fully virtual event due to concerns about the omicron variant. It is the second straight year the festival will be held entirely online.



But the word “virtual” doesn’t sit well with the festival director, because Sundance 2022 will still convey the essence of what an independent film festival is about.

“I don’t like saying virtual because there’s nothing unreal about it,” she said. “The essence of a festival is this gathering — a convergence of the work, the makers and the receivers, who are the audiences. And what is incredibly gratifying is the innovations we’ve been experimenting with in our festival platform.”



A good portion of experimentation lies with the New Frontier XR offerings, which is celebrating its 16th anniversary this year, according to the program’s chief curator, Shari Frilot.

Her staff, along with partner Active Theory, added to last year’s interactive program a virtual spaceship orbiting Earth alongside the International Space Station, where viewers can find the New Frontier works, she said.

“We built this because we had to figure out a way to exhibit this ambitious XR lineup, and we thought we could do more,” Frilot said.

The crew programmed a film party format for this year’s offerings, she said.

“We built a bar with a lounge that will host premier parties and host receptions for filmmakers,” she said. “We found that we could build it in such a way that allows us to interact in a way that we’re practicing humanity now through video chat.”

New Frontier also includes a virtual venue whose interior is modeled after Park City’s Egyptian Theatre, Frilot said.

“We, of course, would be remiss if we didn’t build a cinema house where we can all gather together in a theater to see artist spotlights and films,” she said.

Much of the New Frontier works address issues seen in headlines across the world, Frilot said.

Reproductive rights, climate change, race and the coronavirus’s impact on the performance arts are just a few of the topics represented, she said.

“One of the things that is really notable and inspiring is we saw the lockdown affected our theater community and our dance community, (and) we are seeing that community turning to creative technologists in astonishing ways,” she said.

One of the works, “Cosmogony,” comes to Sundance from the Cie Gille Jobin Company in Geneva, according to Frilot.

“They developed custom technology to put their dancers in (motion capture) suits and found a way to steam their dancing bodies in 3D environments in real time that can be projected in different places,” she said.

Another work, Sam Green’s “32 Sounds,” the festival’s opener, is an experimental film about the origin of sound, Frilot said.

“He began to experiment with live-cinema performance online last year with his work, ‘7 Sounds,’ and it’s super special how he is using technology to present something to a lot of people, one person at a time,” she said.

Of course, the Sundance Film Festival wouldn’t be a film festival without film itself.

Kim Yutani, the festival’s director of programming, and her staff selected more than 82 feature films out of 14,849 submissions from 24 different countries.

“As we went into our submission season, we wondered if it would be feast or famine, (because) with this ongoing global pandemic, we were not sure how that would affect creative output,” she said. “I’m happy to say, submissions were really healthy, and once again we were surprised that artists found ways to sustain themselves to make work, despite the challenges.”

The number of international submissions pleased John Nein, the festival’s director of strategic initiatives.

“We’ve really cemented our place and our identity in a way that celebrates independence, and how that translates in different ways to different regions and countries in the world,” he said. “Because we’ve become successful in launching films and creating visibility for those films, we’re able to put together an international program of fiction and nonfiction that really reflects this global community of artists that is so full of bold visions of our world of today and tomorrow.”

While the Sundance Film Festival doesn’t intentionally base programming on themes, Yutani said the films, much like the New Frontier works, focus on trends and issues that are ongoing or developed over the past decade.

“We saw a lot of work that looked at the current state of the environment and we have works that address climate politics,” she said. “We also saw films that deal with injustice, especially from the viewpoint of people of color and women, and we noticed a lot of films around reproductive rights.”

Another thing Nein noticed was how filmmakers use genre, such as science fiction, in presenting these stories.

“(With) this idea of reappropriating genre conventions and reframing them in order to dissect complicated issues like race and power dynamics, you’re seeing individual artists uniquely capable of telling a story in their own way,” he said. “I think it speaks to the idea of the broader notion of genre, and artists are using genre for a purpose.”

Joanna Vicente, who came onboard as Sundance Institute CEO two months ago, opened the press conference by saying the festival is more than watching films.

“We are coming together to celebrate extraordinary work, elevate independent voices and honor the essential power of storytelling,” Vicente said.

She also expressed her gratitude to film festival staff for thinking about the safety of the community.

“Making the shift to an online-only experience was a difficult decision, but it was the right one,” she said.


Sundance 2022 logo

The 2022 Sundance Film Festival will run through Jan. 30.

Web: festival.sundance.org


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