Sundance exploring options if COVID-19 restrictions continue but hopeful 2021 film festival will be held in Park City |

Sundance exploring options if COVID-19 restrictions continue but hopeful 2021 film festival will be held in Park City

Sundance Institute still wants Park City's Main Street to be filled with independent film lovers during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
Park Record file photo

Although the 2021 Sundance Film Festival is more than nine months away, Sundance Institute is keeping close tabs on the ever-changing COVID-19 protocols.

The institute is already discussing options If COVID-19 restrictions extend and do affect the festival. One of those options is temporarily moving the event to a full digital platform, according to Betsy Wallace, Sundance’s managing director and chief financial officer.

“We are looking at (that) because our audiences and artists are worldwide,” she said. “We want to make sure we continue to reach everyone the best we can. It’s something we’re thinking about, but not something we would want to have occur. We want (the festival) to be a live festival.”

Still, Sundance has already taken action and postponed Sundance Film Festival London and Sundance Film Festival Hong Kong, which were originally scheduled for May and September, respectively, and Wallace said the institute is preparing to make any necessary adjustments to the Utah festival, which is scheduled for Jan. 21-31, 2021, in Park City, Salt Lake City and the Sundance Resort.

“We’re planning as if the (Utah) festival is going to move forward in a live atmosphere,” Wallace said. “It may end up being slightly pared down, but it’s certainly planned to be active the way we normally handle our festivals, unless we see something else that happens with COVID in three or four months. We are just trying to make sure we keep in mind public safety and public health and doing these things at the right time.”

Digital platforms are nothing new to Tara Hein-Phillips, Sundance Institute’s chief product officer, who said the nonprofit is in the process of transitioning Sundance’s 2020 summer labs to the Institute’s digital platform, Sundance Co//ab.

“Luckily for us, we have Sundance Co//ab that we launched just over a year ago, so we already have a space where people can come together in live, online environments all year for small and large events,” she said. “While nothing can replace in-person and community gatherings, there has been a lot of gratitude from those artists that we bring together from all over the world (through the platform) almost every day.”

One live program, which covered making and launching a short film, was held on Friday, March 20,

The event was originally planned for an audience of 120 in San Jose, California, but reached more than 1,600 people globally through its online iteration, according to a Sundance Institute press release.

There are a few labs, such as the Film Music and Sound Design, and Composers Labs, that are taking longer to adapt for a digital presentation, Hein-Phillips said.

“Having access to a full orchestra will be a little more challenging online,” she said. “We’re imagining which aspects of those labs can happen when you can’t bring in a 250-piece orchestra (to work with).”

Even some of the directors’ labs, which have featured hands-on sessions with equipment and mentoring since 1981, have been changed significantly for the time being, Hein-Phillips said.

With the COVID-19 restrictions, these labs have been moved online, and artists have had to adapt to the lack of in-person training on equipment and getting feedback only on finished results, she said.

Still, other smaller webinars, member question-and-answer gatherings and masterclasses have been adapted nearly seamlessly, according to Hein-Phillips.

Sundance has also opened these Co//ab sessions, which were originally available to paid Institute members, to anyone at no cost, she said.

With all the work going into digital transitioning, the plan is for the labs to return to in-person programs in Utah once the COVID-19 crisis has passed, according to Hein-Phillips.

“We wanted to make this available to the widest groups of artists, because we know our artists need support right now,” she said.

As part of providing support, Sundance Institute has expanded an initiative it has developed with the National Endowment of the Arts, Hein-Phillips said.

“In terms of Co//ab, we’ve worked with the National Endowment for the Arts to make their sustainability resources available to our artistic community, and we will add more resources monthly,” she said. “It will be incredibly valuable at a time like this when artists are seeking resources about how to sustain their careers. We were happy to do our part for our artists. We would obviously love to do more, and we are planning more programming.”

Sundance Institute is finalizing the aspects about this coalition, and more information will come out in the next couple of weeks, according to Sundance Institute spokesman Jason Berger.

In the meanwhile, planning for the 2021 festival continues, said Wallace.

“I think having the festival here in Utah is part of the reason why it’s been so successful,” she said. “We have such a great relationship with the state of Utah, Park City, Summit County, and our residents. And for me the relationship has been remarkable.”

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