Sundance eliminates The Ray screening room, the only live venue in Park City

Organizers say the decision based on ‘overall public health situation’ in state

Sundance Film Festival organizers have dropped The Ray theater for 2021 based on continued concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus. The screening room, located at Holiday Village, had been planned as the only live venue in Park City.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Sundance Film Festival organizers on Wednesday said they have dropped The Ray theater at Holiday Village amid the continued worries about the spread of the novel coronavirus, a decision that removes the only live venue in Park City that had been planned for 2021.

The loss of The Ray essentially eliminates Sundance’s presence in the community for the festival, which is scheduled Jan. 28-Feb. 3. Sundance had previously said much of the programming in 2021 would be shifted to an online platform. Organizers, though, had identified The Ray as the one venue in Park City or the Snyderville Basin that would offer live screenings.

Sundance in early December indicated it hoped to show up to three screenings per day at The Ray. Social distancing would have been required of the audience and organizers planned to clean the room between screenings. Sundance at the time said it anticipated between 25 and 50 people would be allowed at each screening. The Ray normally seats 532 people.

Sundance in early December also indicated the intentions to screen films at The Ray, as well as the capacity, depended on talks with City Hall and the Summit County Health Department. Details about any recent talks regarding The Ray were not immediately available

In a statement released on Wednesday, Sundance described the decision in broad terms.

“The safety and well-being of our audiences, community and staff is the most important thing to us. In consideration of the overall public health situation in Utah — a month out from the Festival — we will be pivoting our planned indoor theater screenings at The Ray to our online platform,” the statement said.

The impact of the decision regarding The Ray may be more psychological in the community than it is practical.

Park City has since the 1980s been the host of Sundance with just a scattering of screenings elsewhere in Utah. The loss of The Ray means there will be little inside Park City acknowledging the festival, perhaps only banners and sponsor displays. Many Parkites take pride in Sundance and the opportunity to see cutting-edge films long before they are shown to national audiences.

But the screening room at The Ray was not expected to be a buzzing Sundance venue like those in a typical year with the planned capacity limit dampening the atmosphere. The people headed to or from the screening room also were not anticipated to put stress on the roads or other infrastructure like what is seen normally during Sundance.

The festival, normally running 11 days, is the most lucrative special event on the calendar in Park City with the lodging, transportation and restaurant industries usually enjoying especially strong numbers. The economic impact of the loss of Sundance as a live event in 2021 will reach into the eight figures and likely top $100 million. A mid-December lodging report released by the Park City Chamber/Bureau showed occupancy projections during Sundance topping out at less than 30% compared to actual numbers in 2020 that beat 90% on the busiest days of the festival.

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