Sundance’s Park City bonfire of 2020 now offers an image of a pre-pandemic world |

Sundance’s Park City bonfire of 2020 now offers an image of a pre-pandemic world

Messages set ablaze seem to reflect aspirations that have not been extinguished by coronavirus

Sundance Film Festival organizers in 2020 held a bonfire in Park City that looked toward the future. The novel coronavirus pandemic altered society shortly afterward, but many of the issues of note at Sundance that year remain difficult.
Park Record file photo

With the Sundance Film Festival nearing the second weekend of the event in 2020, a crowd gathered on Swede Alley to mark the final days.

Hundreds arrived in a parking lot for a large bonfire organized by Sundance, a way for the event that year to blaze into the end of the festival. It was dubbed the Imagined Futures Bonfire, and the flames soared into the air.

As the wooden pallets were consumed, so were numerous messages written on them by festival-goers throughout Sundance that year. It was part of a Sundance exercise that allowed the crowds in Park City to leave brief messages about their hopes for the future.

The future that was ahead, though, turned out to be markedly different, and more devastating, than anyone seemed to be considering at the time. The novel coronavirus was spreading abroad by the time Sundance held the bonfire, but the pandemic was weeks away from being declared. The festival was staged in 2020 as planned, with large crowds jamming into screening rooms, restaurants and parties.

Sundance on Thursday opened the second consecutive online festival after the in-person events in 2021 and this year were canceled out of concern for the continued spread of the sickness. Festival organizers initially wanted to hold a hybrid event this year with in-person screenings and online ones, before making the decision to move the event online instead. There are Sundance banners and other festival displays in Park City, but little else signifying the event is occurring online.

Nearly two years later, the bonfire, and the messages left on the pallets, offer an image of a pre-pandemic world that in some ways is in stark contrast to today and in other ways seems to reflect aspirations that have not been extinguished by the pandemic. Although it is likely some in the crowd were aware there was a sickness spreading abroad, the Sundance-goers who left messages were mostly focused on other issues. Many of them pressed topics closely linked with the political left. Others, though, expressed hopes for their day-to-day lives.

If the pandemic is waning, it seems the attention could eventually again focus on the topics that were of interest to the crowds in 2020. It would be impossible this year in Park City to replicate the issue-centric chain reactions that occur in the screening rooms and on Main Street during an in-person Sundance, but the topics of 2020 that were outlined on the pallets have not been solved. In some cases, they have instead become more difficult as a result of the economic and societal convulsions caused across the globe by the pandemic.

Some of the messages that were left on the pallets in 2020 include:

• “A future where we all work to be aware of and overcome our personal biases.”

• “A future with equality for all”

• “No more billionaires”

• “Acceptance of those who are different”

• “invest in education”

• “Care about the planet!”

• “Learn a new language”

• “World peace”

• “All families need to be supported, no matter the make up”

• “To learn violin really well”

• “Sky is the limit for progress”

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