Sundance plans to hold in-person festival in Park City, expand screenings to 20 cities outside Utah
Although COVID-19 has cast a shadow of uncertainty on the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, the Sundance Institute intends for the 11-day event to go on in Park City — and in many other cities throughout North America.
In a letter released by the Sundance Institute on Monday, Festival Director Tabitha Jackson said organizers are still planning to hold the in-person festival in Utah but, in a major change, intend to also screen films in other cities. Sundance is in discussions with venues in places such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, Nashville, Detroit and Mexico City about hosting screenings.
“It will take place live in Utah and in at least 20 independent and community cinemas across the U.S. and beyond,” Jackson said in the letter. “Each of our partners will host a bespoke slate from the official selection alongside complementary programming of their own. This plan acknowledges the vital role of the independent cinema network in our ecosystem.”
Beyond the screenings in other cities, Sundance also plans to unveil a new digital platform that would offer online audiences the opportunity to view films and participate in discussions and special live events, Jackson said.
“This will be the nucleus of the Festival, a showcase for a world of new work, and home to a global community of festival goers who will encounter the art, the artists and each other,” Jackson said. “It will center our values of engagement, inclusion and entertainment, and connect artists with the first audiences as their work meets the world.”
Jackson also indicated that the Sundance experience in Park City will likely look different due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The festival, she said, is planning for a scenario in which people are allowed to gather but with limitations based on public health. She acknowledged the current situation would preclude “large events, shuttle buses, and crowded waitlist tents,” which may result in the number of venues the festival uses in Utah being limited compared to years past.
Additionally, Jackson said the start date of the festival, scheduled for Jan. 21, could be pushed back to Jan. 28 to “provide some room between the U.S. presidential inauguration and the start of the Festival.” She did not provide further details about the planned operations in Park City.
“We hope for better news about the pandemic by January 2021, but we also must plan for the greatest challenges,” she said. “We have discovered that the planning is in fact an invitation to think differently about the form of the Festival.”
Jackson’s vision for the 2021 festival is a “powerful array of perspectives, of talent and artistry — combining with audiences in homes and cities and across countries to reveal new truths.”
“We also have a world of artists making bold powerful work that creatively expresses a lived experience, reveals its complexities, delights in its absurdities, and challenges its injustices,” she said.
Sundance is America’s most iconic film festival, and its presence every January is a major economic driver in Park City and the broader region.
In 2019, more than 122,000 people attended the festival, with 36% coming in from out of state. It generated an economic impact of more than $182 million, according to a report released last year by the Sundance Institute. Jackson did not indicate how many people Sundance anticipates attending the festival in Utah next year.
Jackson characterized Monday’s letter not as an announcement but as an “invitation into the process of building something together.”
“There are very few certainties in these uncertain times, but we are lucky to have as our North Star a well-defined and decades-long mission of championing the independent voice,” she said. “That mission — driven by our values of inclusion, equity and accessibility — becomes more urgent with every passing day.”
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