John Cooper to step down as director of Sundance Film Festival |

John Cooper to step down as director of Sundance Film Festival

Keri Putnam, middle, and John Cooper, right, laugh with Robert Redford, left, onstage at the Egyptian Theatre during the Day One Press Conference of the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday,, January 18, 2018.
Tanzi Propst |

After 11 years as director of the Sundance Film Festival, John Cooper plans to step down following the 2020 event.

Sundance Institute announced in a press release that Cooper will then move into a new emeritus director role, focusing on special projects and overseeing the 40th anniversary of the Sundance Institute, which the organization will celebrate in 2021.

Institute CEO Keri Putnam will head up the search for Cooper’s replacement.

Putnam praised Cooper and said he will be missed as festival director.

“But then again, he will be right down the hall in this new capacity,” Putnam said in the release. “He’ll lend his vision and experience to key projects, as we build towards our 40th anniversary celebration and look ahead to the coming decades of supporting independent creativity.”

Cooper said in the release that his 30-year journey from being a volunteer at the Sundance Labs in 1989 to working his “perfect job” as festival director has been “exhilarating.” “l always had the founding principles, passed down by Robert Redford, to guide me,” he said. “I attribute any success I have had to being part of an amazing staff (past and present) who strive together to help storytellers follow their dreams and launch careers.”

Cooper added that he is excited for the future.

“I look forward to remaining a part of this fantastic organization in my new role, and creating a seamless transition for new Festival leadership,” he said.

Katharine Wang, executive director of Park City Film, a nonprofit arthouse film organization, told The Park Record she has admired Cooper’s work.

“He was such an institution at the festival that his leadership just defined the way things were,” Wang said. “(I) am intrigued about what the new director will bring to the festival. With change comes opportunity, so it will be exciting to see what that looks like for the Sundance Film Festival.”

The release credited Cooper with keeping the festival “vital and competitive with the growing independent film community” during his tenure as director.

His festival achievements include the creation of the Documentary Premiers, Next and New Frontier segments, a well as the Short Film section and competition.

Cooper also built a global presence for the festival by leading the Sundance Film Festival: London and Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong.

He also helped establish the Sundance Industry office and the Sundance Ignite Program.

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