Sundance ends Jan. 30, then spotlight swivels to whether fest stays in Park City |

Sundance ends Jan. 30, then spotlight swivels to whether fest stays in Park City

Contract between City Hall, organizers includes a fast-approaching opt-out deadline

The Sundance Film Festival started on Thursday and for the second consecutive year is being held online out of concern for the spread of the novel coronavirus. An agreement between City Hall and Sundance to hold the festival locally includes a fast-approaching deadline allowing Sundance to opt out of the contract.
Park Record file photo

The Sundance Film Festival runs until Jan. 30, but the spotlight could swivel to another critical date shortly afterward: March 1.

City Hall and the Sundance Institute have a contractual relationship holding that Sundance stages the festival in Park City and the municipal government provides a wide range of services for the event.

There was a deal dating to 2001. That one was amended in 2005 as the institute moved its Utah headquarters to the Silver Star development on the edge of Thaynes Canyon. Park City leaders and Sundance in 2013 negotiated a revised agreement. The 2013 version includes a key provision that is notable as the festival unfolds online for the second straight year amid the concerns about the continued spread of the novel coronavirus.

Sundance in the 2013 version agreed to hold the festival in Park City from 2014 until 2026 with the possibility of automatic renewals annually. But the agreement includes a clause allowing a Sundance opt out for the final three years — 2024 until 2026 — if the institute was unable to renew the lease at Silver Star after making “good faith and reasonable efforts” to stay at the location.

Sundance in 2019 moved from the Silver Star grounds to office space along Kearns Boulevard. Sundance at the time of the move indicated it outgrew the Silver Star space and the Kearns Boulevard location provided significantly more square footage. Any negotiations between Sundance and the landlord at Silver Star were held privately and details are not known. It was unclear late in the week whether the move could trigger the opt-out clause. The agreement requires Sundance to provide City Hall written notice of an opt out by March 1 of 2022, or approximately one month after the festival ends.

City Hall and Sundance on Thursday declined individual requests for comment about the opt-out clause. The two sides instead provided an unsigned joint statement in response to a Park Record inquiry, reading “The Sundance Institute and Park City Municipal address operational and contract issues annually as needed following each year’s Festival.”

“Neither partner will comment on contract or term issues during the SFF- to do so would detract from our mutual and immediate focus on hosting our filmmakers, [virtual] attendees and the larger operational matters at hand. We encourage the media to join us in sharing this year’s amazingly brave voices amplified by the independent storytelling which remains the heart of the SFF,” the statement said, using the term “SFF” for the Sundance Film Festival.

The festival in early January canceled all in-person events in Park City amid worries about the rapid spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. The in-person festival was canceled in 2021 as well. Sundance is holding an online festival this year, following the successful rollout of the digital screenings in 2021.

A wide swath of Park City would almost certainly closely monitor any public discussions in upcoming weeks should the opt-out date be addressed. The festival is the largest and most lucrative special event on the Park City calendar, with industries like lodging, restaurant and transportation usually enjoying especially strong numbers during Sundance.

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