Sundance Film Festival plan impacts local arts organizations
The plan to pivot the 2021 Sundance Film Festival to a primarily virtual platform duo to COVID-19 will impact local arts and cultural organizations whose venues are traditionally used for official screenings and panel discussions.
While Wednesday’s announcement from the Sundance Institute didn’t surprise those in charge of the Egyptian Theatre, Park City Institute and Park City Film, the news came as another setback in what has already been a challenging year.
“Still, it’s another major hit financially,” said Randy Barton, manager of The Egyptian Theatre, which has served as a screening venue since the festival debuted in the 1980s. “They are the only rental we do every year, and it’s just another thing in a long string of hits.”
Those hits include canceling its summer performances, scaling back its YouTheatre camps and cutting some of the benefits of its Pharaoh Club members, said Barton.
“The money is a major hit, but more so is the impact on the Pharaoh Club members, because they are entitled, as part of their membership, to come to Sundance and see films here,” he said. “Since that will not be a part of the benefits this year, I’m sure we’ll see a drop in support.”
Ari Ioannides, executive of director of the Park City Institute, which along with Park City High School runs the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, said their top-tier donors, like the Egyptian Theatre’s Pharaoh Club, will also lose out on the opportunity to enjoy Sundance through what he calls the “Eccles Entourage.”
“They usually would get the VIP treatment and the benefits of seeing select screenings at the Eccles,” he said. “Unfortunately, they will miss out on that experience this year, but we’ll flip that over to 2022.”
The impact to Park City Film from no screenings being held at its home in the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium will be felt through the lack of a fundraising opportunity during the festival.
Each year Park City Film recruits more than 100 volunteers to sell concessions during the screenings, and the money from the sales goes back into the nonprofit’s film programs, said Executive Director Katharine Wang.
“Selling concessions is our biggest fundraiser of the year, and we’ve always been part of the festival through that,” she said.
Another perk for Park City Film volunteers that will be lost is the opportunity to interact with filmmakers, actors, distributors and other film aficionados, who are among the 40,000 people who buy popcorn and drinks each year, according to Wang.
“Everyone becomes a little more accessible because they aren’t in the press room and on their guard when they buy snacks,” she said. “That really humanizes these larger-than-life people.”
Park City Film, like the Egyptian Theatre, whose partnership with Sundance is more than just a venue rental, has a long-standing connection with the festival.
“Selling concessions is how we started 26 years ago, when they renovated what was the Carl Winters School Building,” she said. “They did that in part because Sundance wanted another venue to show their films.”
Sundance reached out to the Arts Council of Park City and Summit County to help staff and sell concessions during the festival, and as a thank you, it decided to screen some of the film festival offerings outside of the festival to the rest of the community, according to Wang.
“‘Strawberry and Chocolate,’ a Cuban film, was one of the first we showed, and every quarter the Arts Council would get together to show other films,” she said. “And that’s how we took off.”
Although Sundance will not use the Egyptian Theatre, Eccles Center and the Jim Santy Auditorium, Barton, Ioannides and Wang understand and appreciate the reasons why.
“I believe Sundance realized hosting a large, live event with international travelers in Park City would be a huge risk to attendees, volunteers and filmmakers,” Ioannides said. “While it is a difficult call, I feel Sundance is making the right decision.”
Like Ioannides, Barton harbors no ill will.
“Nobody wanted this to happen, and we look forward to next year when they arrive, again,” he said.
Wang also supports Sundance for doing what she views as the right thing during “this incredibly challenging time.”
“I applaud their decision and creativity in making the festival a safe environment by decentralizing it, and keeping our community safe,” she said. “It really is a community effort at this point to get to the other side of COVID.”
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This year’s New Frontiers exhibit at the Sundance Film Festival will allow passholders to explore biotech, mixed reality, augmented reality and virtual reality exhibits and films from the comfort of their homes.